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“Attacks on Artificial Intelligence”


By Frank Simons

Previous lectures have outlined the history of work on artificial intelligence (AI) and have emphasized its promise. But AI also has serious critics. Some critics target particular strategies or assumptions that have been current in the AI project. Others offer deeper arguments intended to challenge the entire idea of AI.

Hubert Dreyfus argues that human intelligence is embodied intelligence. It involves recognition of relevance, the ability to shift attention, the disentangling of contextual ambiguities, and the use of rough-and-ready categories. Each of these abilities appears on Dreyfus’s list of things “computers can’t do.” But his critiques are perhaps best construed as criticisms of a particular line of AI research at a particular historical period. At the core of his attack is a list of the following challenges: (1) humans show “fringe consciousness,” a latent awareness of things in the background to which humans can shift attention when needed, allowing them to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant factors (for the computer, everything is of the same importance); (2) humans can ignore contextually irrelevant senses of ambiguous words, such as “hard” (computers cannot do this); and (3) humans can recognize categories of things without lists of features, another ability computers don’t have.

John Searle’s objections are stronger, offering a critique of artificial intelligence in general and in principle. Searle’s core argument is the thought experiment of the Chinese room described in detail in this lecture. How can genuine understanding consist of pure symbol-pushing? How can one get real meaning from mere mechanics? Searle’s argument can be generalized as an argument against machine instantiation of any cognitive state at any time. Any computer is a syntactic engine, operating on the form of symbols alone, and syntax is insufficient to give us meaning or semantics. It is we humans who read things as input and output, and it is we who add meaning to what the machine does. Searle’s argument produces a deep conceptual problem—how can meaning and semantics ever arise from something that is not itself intrinsically semantic or meaningful? We do not know how semantics can emerge from something smaller and non-semantic, but we know it can. Our brains are living proof.

The professor Patrick Grim, a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, has provided his students with invaluable insights into issues of philosophy, artificial intelligence, theoretical biology, and other fields. Professor Grim was awarded the university’s Presidential and Chancellor’s awards for teaching excellence and was elected to the Academy of Teachers and Scholars.

There will be an opportunity for discussion following the video.

Presentations of the Center are offered without charge. Donations are gratefully accepted.


Video Presentation

Philosophy of Mind: Part 17, “Attacks on Artificial Intelligence”


Thu, Sep 28, 5:30pm

Meditation Center

Callejon Blanco 4

Free, donations accepted


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