Tuesday, October 19, 2010

the beginning of the thesis on what it means to be human



The field of research that is involved with the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is generally divided into two categories: Weak AI and Strong AI. The terms originated in the work of John Searle, presently Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. Searle felt he had to distinguish between the idea of AI that could achieve human intelligence and consciousness and AI that only looked like it could.

In practice, Weak AI has come to be used to define all the research and development in AI-related fields that is not attempting to emulate or surpass human intelligence: robotic vacuums, aircraft takeoff and landing software, computer-driven rocket systems, etc. For this reason, Weak AI is also called applied or narrow AI. Strong AI, on the other hand, is strictly used to denote AI that is attempting, basically, to create a nonbiological human with human intellect and self-awareness. This needs to be an AI that is not simply task or problem specific like narrow AI. It needs to be an AI that is competent in the area of general intelligence, thus a broad or all-encompassing AI. (It is often called Artificial General Intelligence or AGI due to this.) This attainment has eluded AI researchers ever since proper AI research began in the middle of the 20th century.

Transhumanism is a movement closely allied with the quest for human-level artificial intelligence. It promotes the enhancement of humans by means of technology as well as genetic engineering. The World Transhumanist Association defines itself as “an organization which advocates the ethical use of technology to expand human capacities. We support the development of and access to new technologies that enable everyone to enjoy better minds, better bodies and better lives.” A number of researchers believe Transhumanism will eventually merge with Strong AI to create future strains of nonbiological human intelligence.

Ray Kurzweil, Hans Moravec and Kevin Warwick are three prominent leaders among the researchers who are predicting the attainment of human-level intelligence by machines well within the first half of the 21st century. Kurzweil and Warwick are also major proponents of Transhumanism and the eventual merger of enhanced humanity with artificial intelligence. Understanding their different approaches offers a helpful introduction to the field and to the evolution of this thesis: Kurzweil believes a fully nonbiological human can and will be created; Moravec believes a being that surpasses human intelligence will be created but that it will not be human; Warwick does not believe a fully nonbiological human will be created, but he does believe an intelligence will be produced that surpasses that of humans, so that the only way to save biological humanity is for it to interface with and remain in control of advanced artificial intelligence.

I have chosen Kurzweil, Moravec and Warwick as key figures to interact with in my thesis because of their prolific writing and publication, their high visibility in the Strong AI field, and their commonality as well as diversity of views which permits an in-depth discussion of numerous topics connected with AI research.

While exploring their views, I will be implicitly and explicitly working around the following questions (not necessarily in this order): 1) Is it possible to achieve human-level intelligence in a machine? 2) How soon will this take place? 3) Can a machine ever be considered a nonbiological human being? 4) How successful will Transhumanism be? 5) How can these goals be realistically achieved? 6) Are there any dangers inherent in Strong AI research? 7) What sort of ethical and metaphysical issues does this research raise?

What I will be looking for with regard to these questions, at this point, is primarily what their thinking is regarding the issues raised. I will interact with their responses from time-to-time, but my main concern is to ensure they speak for themselves about the topics surrounding Strong AI research.

With reference to question 7, I will be paying particular attention to the metaphysical issue of the human soul: What do AI researchers think about it, how do they define it, do they consider it a significant aspect of a human being, will a nonbiological human have a soul? This question of the human soul will be dealt with at length in Chapter 5, but it remains an important part of the debate about the creation of nonbiological humanity from the outset.

the beginning of the sequel to the novel ZO

The sun had been hung like a brass circle over the fields of grass and snow. A long line of vehicles crawled over the road that Brother Martin had plowed with the garden tractor, a straight road, and flat, like the roads of all prairies and plains and steppes, and one that took people right to the gate of the monastery.
The cars and trucks were dark. In them, Tanks and troop carriers had come the same way through snow and wheat 60 or 70 years before when I lived a different existence in a different century.

But these were not soldiers with guns and bombs and malevolent intent. These were musicians with cellos and violas and trumpets and timpani. These were women and men who wished to recreate and renew and replenish. Yet I could not ignore that they came in that long dark line, pulling the sky down with them. They were bringing more than music. They brought the long night. And of all the hours in the year and in a life, those which were most impenetrable.

The new abbot was very much in favour of my sister Zoya being declared a saint. He had flung open the doors of our chapel, with its perfect acoustics, for works that had been commissioned in her honour. The musicians were here to make official recordings of those works. They knew her brother was at the Trappist monastery. Whether they would recognize him as the one with his hood up and leaning on a snow shovel was another matter. In the hard red granite of the sun’s fall, as they drove towards our gates, drove implacably as fate or divine will, I prayed I would be missed and forgotten in the turbulence of rehearsals, miles of black cord, microphone stands and violins being tuned to perfection.

The Vatican had phoned. There were still some unanswered questions. Some gaps. Would I – Andrii, Brother Nahum – be available for the Holy Father’s personal emissary? Could the abbot place him at Archbishop Frederick’s disposal? They scarcely needed to ask. The new abbot would do whatever was necessary - and more. How opportune, how blessed, that the retinue from Rome would arrive during the celebration of the Holy Nativity, exactly when the recordings of the sacred music written for Zoya were to be done. The abbot saw God’s hand in all of it.

Dom Alexander, the abbot who had died, would have shielded me as much as he could from the prying and probing. The new one simply threw me to the wolves. He did not understand, nor would he support, my reluctance. I had taken a vow of obedience. It was up to me to get on with it.

The cars rolled past where I stood. I saw the faces of the musicians and the sound people and the producers, the long-haired women and sometimes long-haired men, the large black cases that held basses and harps and drums. I expect they thought I looked strange and medieval in my monastic garb, my hood peaked like a steeple. No stranger than God or life itself, I said to them without moving my lips.

The archbishop would come in the same way down the same road. His cars would also be dark. They had been the first time. Perhaps he would be in a foul mood because the devil’s advocate had picked apart his case for my sister’s canonization. Or perhaps he would have made peace with his disappointment and be as calm as a windless prairie. He might even be glad to see me, though that was doubtful. We had not left on the best of terms the summer before.

I walked away from exhaust fumes that rose like river mist in the ice of the evening air. Three, four, five stars had appeared overhead. The shovel was in my right hand and I pushed back my cowl with the left. I welcomed the sting of the night.
Come then, your grace, I whispered to the sky, to the last flash of light, to the white road streaked with the dark stripes of tires, I find I am surprisingly eager to see you, to talk of that other life I knew as a young man, that terrible life. Perhaps it will be a confession that releases me. Perhaps it will be a revelation and I will see what I have never seen before. Perhaps it will be a resurrection and I will live again. Perhaps it will permit me to lay my old bones on my bed one final time and die a good death. I have no idea. But I am not reluctant or obstinate or afraid. Come quickly, your grace. I will not be hard to find. I stand at the great gate of Kyiv.