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1. What Constitutes AI?

In this treatise I will be delving into the fuzzy question of what possibly could constitute Artificial Intelligence or as the question sometimes has been put ‘can machines think?’ [1]

In order to do this in any meaningful way a significant clarification of what is actually meant by the different concepts is all the more necessary. For instance if by ‘intelligence’ we simply mean the ability to solve problems in any specific field, we would have no reason to claim that a chess-playing computer is not intelligent. This leads us to all the more esoteric concepts as ‘thought’, ‘consciousness’, ‘mind’, and one might even be tempted to add ‘soul’ were one theologically inclined. Even the word ‘machine’ might give us some problems. For instance do we ourselves count as machines?[2] When would Artificial Intelligence cease being artificial?

I will attempt to clarify what I can, but in the end you, dear reader, are on your own as we all are because:

‘(…) the most important problem is that we are trying to understand the fundamental workings of the universe via a language devised for telling one another when the best fruit is.’ [3]

Searle places paramount importance in the distinction between weak and strong Artificial Intelligence (henceforth AI) in his article ‘Minds, Brains, and Programs’[4] thusly:

‘According to weak AI, the principal value of the computer in the study of the mind is that it gives us a very powerful tool…But according to strong AI, the computer is not merely a tool in the study of the mind; rather, the appropriately programmed computer really is a mind, in the sense that computers given the right programs can be literally said to understand and have other cognitive states.’

Whether or not I truly agree with Searle on all points, I think we both would agree that we might speak of the weak kind of intelligence being present in a simulation, but in order to be able to confidently assert the presence of what we normally call intelligence, a level of understanding and consciousness has to be present that equals that of a mind with states of cognition.[5]

In other words what is being discussed here is ‘intelligence’ in the sense of awareness and resulting thoughts. Thoughts which in turn do not just cause an automatic reaction but also an underlying understanding of the situation and/or object subjected to the awareness and therefore also a deeper level of logical interaction. All of this may be called consciousness and in turn be said to pertain to a mind. If the entirety of this still seems rather wishy-washy or ill-defined, remember we are dealing with concepts of which we have a mere rudimentary understanding at best, which is precisely why it is relevant to current research to begin with.

In regards to what is meant by ‘machine’ it is interesting to note that whereas Turing in his third section of his original essay wants to:

‘(…) permit every kind of engineering technique to be used in our machines.’

On the other hand he wishes:

‘(…) to exclude from the machines men born in the usual manner.’ [6]

Searle leans towards the view that of course machines could think because:

‘We are precisely such machines.’[7]

Which machines then are we talking about? Which machines should be allowed in this treatise? With all due respect to the machine definitions of both Turing and Searle, I would like to take a pragmatic stance. Namely the rather more interesting question: ‘To what kind of entity could we possibly ascribe such intelligence?’ and even more to the point: ‘Could it be anything else than a human being?’ It is important to clarify that even though a human being were to be artificially made, through cloning or genetic engineering etc., it should still be considered an actual human being. Even if every single quark were to be manually pieced together in the process of creating a living and thinking duplicate of a human brain-in-a-vat this would nonetheless ipso facto be a human being (at least as far as the psyche is concerned). The natural remaining question is; ‘If we possibly could ascribe intelligence to anything else than a human being, is it something we could construct?’

And that is the very nature of this investigation.


[1] Turing, Alan M.: “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” from Mind, 59, 1950: P. 433-460

[2] By Searle’s definition we do.

[3] A humerous quote by famous author Terry Pratchett stated by him on his online forum. ( http://www.lspace.org/ftp/words/pqf/pqf-6.0.pdf )

[4] Searle, John R.: “Mind, Brains, and Programs” from The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, vol. 3, 1980.

[5] Searle seems particularly fond of the state “Being thirsty”. See: Dennett, Daniel C.: “The Myth of the Computer: An Exchange” from The New York Review of Books Vol. 29, No. 11, June 24, 1982.

[6] Both quotes from: Turing, Alan M.: “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” from Mind, 59, 1950: P. 433-460

[7] Searle, John R.: “Mind, Brains, and Programs” from The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, vol. 3, 1980

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