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Meditation Center Presents Part 15 of Mind-Body Philosophy Series

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By Frank Simons

Installment 15 of the 24-part Great Courses series, Mind-Body Philosophy, entitled “Could a Machine Be Conscious?” takes us on a journey into the mind of Alan Turing, the British WWII code breaker and artificial intelligence pioneer made famous by the 2014 film The Imitation Game.

After World War II, Turing was instrumental in the construction of larger and all-purpose computing machines. But his vision went even further. In his notes, Turing anticipated the next generation of computing, using neural networks inspired by the way that neurons function in the human brain. Neural networks show an amazing ability to learn.

In 1950, Turing published his definitive philosophical piece on the question of minds, machines, and information: “Can a Machine Think?” Turing rejects the question of whether a machine can think as meaningless but proposes replacing that question with one that isn’t so. It’s known today as the Turing Test, and it issues the following challenge: could you build a machine that under specified conditions was indistinguishable from a person?

Turing’s article and the Turing test were seminal moments in the field of artificial intelligence, a term that wasn’t even invented until after his death in 1954. In 1956, a group of collaborators put together the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence. The conference was explicitly based on the conjecture “that every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it.” Two branches of AI came out of the conference: One involved straight programming, on the model of the Turing machine. The other involved the first exploration in neural nets, another line of thought Turing anticipated.

Turing predicted that by the year 2000, we would have machines good enough at simulating human intelligence that an average interrogator wouldn’t have a better than 70 percent chance of distinguishing mind from machine after a five-minute exchange. We didn’t make that goalpost, but Turing was certainly right when he said language would change: “I believe by the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.” Today we have no problem using a full range of anthropomorphic concepts in order to characterize what our computers do. We say “It can’t see items in that subdirectory,” and, “It thinks I put that document somewhere else.” We speak of our machines as knowing things, thinking things, even forgetting things or ignoring us.

Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook Patrick Grim 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.

This video presentation takes place on Thursday, April 19, at 5:30pm, at the Center, Callejon Blanco 4. There will be an opportunity for discussion following the video.

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


Video Presentation

Mind-Body Philosophy Part 15: “Could a Machine Be Conscious?”

Thu, Apr 19, 5:30pm

Meditation Center

Callejón Blanco 4

Free, donations accepted

044 415 156 1950


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