The Trouble with Gerrold: I, Robot
March 1, 2013 —
(Page 1 of 4)
Related Search Term(s): artificial intelligence
Philosophy and science both come to a screeching halt when confronted with two essential questions:
One is Why does existence exist? Why is there is? Why isn’t there nothingness?
The other is What is consciousness? Why am I me? Why do I experience myself as a self?
The why-ness of existence is a question that human beings will likely never have an answer for. We would have to leave this universe to look at it from the outside, and that would only kick the question upstairs. Why is there an outside? Why does anything exist at all?
The question of consciousness (let’s call it self-awareness) may be even more puzzling, because it should have a knowable answer. But to get there, we have to apply consciousness to the question of its own existence. Why am I here? Why am I able to know that I exist?
Does your brain hurt yet? Mine does.
If life is possible in this vast universe, it’s inevitable somewhere. This is that somewhere. And if self-awareness is possible for living creatures, then it is also inevitable somewhere. Again, this is that somewhere.
The question becomes immediately relevant as soon as we start talking about machine intelligence. Some people believe that self-awareness in a machine is impossible. I’m not one of those people. I look at human beings and I see self-awareness in machines made of meat. Imprecise, sloppy, often irrational, self-aware machines, but still occasionally capable of genuine consciousness and sometimes even genuine thought.
So if our existence is evidence that self-awareness is possible in meat, it shouldn’t be too hard to consider the possibility of simulating it or even creating it in silicon or whatever might replace silicon in the future. The problem is that as self-aware as we are about ourselves, we still don’t know why we are self-aware. (Don’t think about this one too long. It’s a variation of Why does existence exist? only more self-centered. Why do I exist? Why not someone else? It’ll make your brain hurt even more.)