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    1st Colloquium on the Law of Transhuman Persons in Florida

    Moot Court Hearing On The Petition Of A Conscious Computer

    Ray Kurzweil runs a terrific web site on artificial intelligence and other matters related to technology and society. He recently provided the transcript of the court hearing on whether a conscious computer should be treated as a person.

    This issue has been raging for some time. It reached its apogee with the discussion about whether "Deep Blue" the computer that (who?) beat Gary Kasparov was actually intelligent. IBM has some wonderful research on this available here.

    "We have a petition by BINA48, an intelligent computer, to prevent its owner and creator, Exabit Corporation, from either turning off its power, or if it turns off its power, from reconfiguring it; and BINA48 doesn't want that to happen."

    Machines attract and repel us. Although human beings are surrounded by many different machines and rely on them everyday, our culture views them with a great deal of skepticism . At the same time, the desire to automate the world we live in and efforts to link humans and machines have always been a part of the arts, sciences and mythology and have been foundational to the cultural and economic development of Western societies. Automation brings with it many attendant dangers including the assumption, if not the reality that humans no longer control their own destiny. If the interactions were between nature and humans, then this loss of control would be expected. For example, you might anticipate a tornado or a hurricane, but you cannot control them. The fact is that virtual spaces are cultural and technological and are therefore subject to different rules than nature. They are artificial constructs. It seems clear however, that the conventional meaning of artificial will not suffice to explain autonomous processes that build microscopic and macroscopic worlds using algorithms that often develop far beyond the original conceptions of their progenitors. We may be in need of a radical revision of what we mean by simulation and artificiality because of the ease with which digital machines build complex non-natural environments. (From "How Images Think")

    Reader Comments (1)

    My friend Dietmar Dietrich at the Technical University here in Vienna has been working for many years on simulating the functions of life forms with computers. he tells me that they progressed very fast at the beginning and can now construct a perfectly functioning beetle - which not only functions completely, but also perceives and "thinks" like a beetle. however, higher life forms seem far more difficult to achieve. my question as a psychoanalyst is: what about the Unconscious? the existence of the Unconscious, as Freud points out, already deals a blow to the idea that we could control our own destiny (quite apart from the natural disasters)- unless we were perfectly analyzed of course! For a discussion of natural and moral evils, destiny vs. providence etc. from Voltaire and the Lisbon earthquake up to today, see Susan Neiman's excellent book "Evil in Modern Thought."Some might think that an artificial intelligence environment that was spared the burden of an Unconscious might be an equal or superior form of mentation to our own, but I'm not so sure. What kind of creativity is there without an unconscious? Felix de Mendelssohn
    June 1, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterfelix

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