A machine differs from a mere instrument by having some degree of self-activity, and as machines become more an more advanced they become more and more selves or at least self-like. At the limit of this is the notion of the self-machine or artificial intelligence. But this limit is never a rupture with the instrument but keeps its continuity with it. Make a machine as intelligent as you please, it still has an end outside of itself. Its outputs must be displays, even if ones that talk to us. But my talking to you does not make my mouth a display, nor does typing this make my hands outputs. The intelligent machine would be one to which interiority was superfluous, even where intelligence was immeasurably more powerful.

Call this the horror of the Chinese room, or the zombie character of AI. The horror is the thought of decoupling intelligence from interiority, or of having the power of intelligence without its dignity; calculation without being-for-oneself.

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3 Comments

  1. November 11, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    “At the limit of this is the notion of the self-machine or artificial intelligence…. Make a machine as intelligent as you please, it still has an end outside of itself.”

    Would you use another term instead of AI for man-made interior intelligence, or is the presumption that that would be impossible? If the latter, why? (Or better, perhaps, what am I missing?)

    • November 11, 2014 at 4:34 pm

      I wouldn’t want another term, just an awareness of what the adjective “artificial” does to its noun. It seems to me its doing the same thing that “artificial” does in artificial leather. Fake leather can perform some of the functions of leather without being a sort of leather, so too with AI.

      A more traditional Thomist approach might point to the importance of substantial form. Intelligence cannot be of a self when it is artificial (and thus accidental), since selves are essentially substantial. The closest we come to making an intelligence is with our seed, not our hands. As soon as we try to lay hold of the form, we delete the interiority and so the self.

  2. November 12, 2014 at 8:49 am

    “Fake leather can perform some of the functions of leather without being a sort of leather, so too with AI.”

    Okay, I think I follow. Fake leather : real leather :: artificial intelligence : intelligence. Fake leather will never be real leather; artificial intelligence will never be intelligence.

    That part is clear, but something about it is still unsatisfying to me. I’m willing to admit that body, soul, mind, et al. can be said to have their own natures, but only in a qualified sense. For a human being, the nature of all of these things is first *human,* then whatever else at whatever level of specificity (body, mind, soul, reason, understanding, will, eye, lung, heart, carbon, and so on). See, e.g. St. John of Damascus, De Fide Orthodoxa, 3.16. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf209.iii.iv.iii.xvi.html

    Thus, perhaps the question needs to be removed one degree. What is it that we seek to make artificially in the case of AI? I would argue it is not, primarily, intelligence, but humanity. I’ll grant the leather analogy for that: fake humanity is not real humanity, no matter how close it appears. But in order for that fake humanity to “pass” in the same way good fake leather can pass for real leather, it needs something more than to be able to perform all of the functions (cognitive, emotional, and so on) of humanity. It needs parts with natures suited to performing those functions.

    Take, for example, a robotic hand. It can perform all the functions of a human hand because it is, in fact, a hand. It’s not a human hand, and in that sense it is artificial, but that it is truly a hand seems clear. In the same way, I think what we mean by artificial intelligence is, basically, fake-human intelligence. Perhaps it can never really be human, but does that keep it from ever being intelligence?

    Regarding substantial form, is the nature “hand” accidental to the robot hand? It seems essential to me, despite the fact that we might just as well say it is an artificial hand. But it is artificial because it is not human, not because it is not a hand.


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