Artificial Intelligence and Commander Data

The computers processing capabilities, which are increasing exponentially, has opened the door to the possibility of a machine becoming self-aware.. The important question is not whether this is technically feasible, but the many philosophical problems regarding the mind  that arise if it does happen. If computer with processes and complexity that are comparable to the human brain attains self-awareness, how would we differentiate ourselves from machines  Does the means by which consciousness is achieved, whether biological or electromechanical, become a defining property of consciousness How could we justify a claim that the human mind is a legitimate consciousness, but a machine, with functions that correspond to every neurological process and match the brains power in every way, is not If we concede that consciousness has emerged from a computermachine, if this does happen, how would this affect the way we see our minds Would these genuinely self-aware computers be granted the same rights as humans Would it be murder to pull the plug on such an entity We could seriously ask the question  Are we ourselves machines created by an intelligence in the same way we have made a computer with a consciousness  These questions are only the tip of the iceberg and they will be philosophys and humanities most difficult to grapple with if a sentient android is realized. In Star Trek The Next Generation, Commander Data is one of the characters who is an android that is self-aware and is a good hypothetical subject to apply and test some theories related to philosophy of mind. Datas character raises many philosophical issues throughout  the many episodes of the series and may be an accurate prediction of what may become a reality in the near future.

Dualism- The Dualism of Descartes philosophy, more specifically Substance Dualism divides the world into two very different domains The first is the external world of physical objects. The second is the immaterial consciousness we experience within. Substance Dualist believe that the thoughts and states of mind are immaterial and the source from which the conscious mind flows  is also of an ethereal nature. This view avoids the problem of having to explain how consciousness, clearly something of an intangible nature, can emerge from something of the physical world. Let us hypothetically apply this Cartesian theory to Commander Data as a measure of Datas true self-awareness. Descartes would consider Data strictly a machine without a conscious because he is a product of the material world and built by a man. Data could not have a human soul and Descartes would  protest any suggestion otherwise.  Preposterous  he might exclaim when meeting Data.  How could consciousness come from or be experienced by an android made from the stuff of the outside world You have no soul Nevertheless, you are an interesting mechanical man, Mr Data.

Identity Theory- In this context, Identity Theory is the proposal that the mind and brain are one in the same. It takes the position that consciousness is simply the product of the neurological processes of the brain. Every mind-state has a corresponding brain-state.

Identity Theory, as theorized by John Searle, does not allow a  computer to be able to learn and think even though it may appear to have processes similar to the brain. Searles though experiment called the Chinese Room aims to illustrate how a computer cannot achieve consciousness because the computer is only executing programming language. The computer cannot experience the objects of the physical world, so it could never understand the meaning of the objects the symbols represent. There is chance Searle would concede that Data could genuinely learn and did possess a mind comparable to a humans, although he seems very skeptical of this possibility.  

Functionalism- This tenet takes a very utilitarian, blue-collar approach to tackle the some of the difficulties in defining consciousness. A Functionalist  shifts the focus away from trying to define actual the composition or properties of the various mental states of the mind to that of the function and purpose for them. The experience of fear, pain, and the myriad of other emotions that constitute a mental state must exist for some purpose. The possession functioning mental-states such as pain qualifies you a conscious entity to Functionalists. Commander Data is a person according to

Eliminative Materialism- This is a radical approach that rejects that mental states exist at all and that our understanding of the mind through psychology is fatally flawed.. Paul Churchland and his wife are two proponents of this view. The conscious mind is strictly the result of the biological processes of the brain and nothing more. It eliminates the idea that consciousness is a separate phenomenon with any substance in reality whatsoever. Data, from this point of view, would be classified as a conscious entity equal to humans in neurological complexity solely because of this complexity the need for a  soul  is irrelevant and superfluous.

The problem of understanding the causes for and nature of consciousness is one of the greatest challenges for science and philosophy. It is an area of great interest and bewilderment for myself. How can we ever prove our own personal experiences and perceptions exist What other entities, biological or electromechanical, are capable of and possess self-awareness  What is the criteria for consciousness  The fictional character of Data gives us the chance to simulate the application of some the theories of mind to begin to answer some of these questions. Of the different approaches I have touched on in this paper, the most satisfying is the Functionalist approach. It is the most balanced, logical theory. The reasons why we have different mind-states are causal reactions to external stimuli and relationships to other mind-states makes good sense to me. Data would be a person, in my opinion. Even if Data were only executing an exquisitely composed set of programs to make him only have the appearance of intelligence, how can we ever be sure this is not the case  for other humans    

All of these theories have interesting aspects, but none comes close to giving us a comprehensive theory of mind and consciousness. This is not surprising because the magnitude of the task is so enormous. It should be noted that some of  the greatest minds have dedicated their lives to exploring and increasing our understanding of the human mind and these proposals put forth, however primitive or incomplete, are a testament to our ability to push the limits of our understanding of the incomprehensible. The biggest unsolved problems of science and philosophy are the most interesting because they force us to imagine new possibilities and think the unthinkable pushing us slowly towards a greater understanding of the universe and ourselves.


Post a Comment