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Opinion: The artificial intelligence debate

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The debate concerning artificial intelligence (A.I.) has become even more heated with the creation of The Human Brain Project. John Brandon, of FoxNews.com, reports, “The Human Brain Project kicks off Oct. 7 at a conference in Switzerland. Over the next 10 years, about 80 science institutions and at least 20 government entities in Europe will figure out how to make that computer brain. The project will cost about $1.6B in U.S. dollars.”

Why is so much money being spent on trying to understand the human brain? Dr. Gayani DeSilva, a psychiatrist with a private practice in Orange, California, said, “A human brain model could have unimaginable implications for medicine, helping us learn how we adapt, heal, and develop. The more we know about our brains, the more we can utilize our brains to its full potential, intervene when issues arise, replicate in artificial creations the power of the brain’s ability to integrate a vast amount of information that then causes other systems to perform specific actions.” Nonetheless, it’s not only going to benefit how we understand the way in which the brain works, its potential and the medical implications, but it will move us closer to trying to construct artificial intelligence. Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google and leading futurist, believes that with the rate that more information is becoming available to us, that it will be necessary to meld the human mind with new mechanisms to keep up. He articulates this idea in the event he calls the “Singularity” in which human intelligence and A.I. become one. The lines between humanity and machines become blurred and we are, if you listen to the futurist, perfected to reach our full potentials.

Is there not a harm with this? Huge amounts of capitol is being invested in A.I. This is the belief, one shared by both Kurzweil and DeSilva, that technology will be able to solve many, if not most, of humanities problems. DeSilva only says this only as far as medicine is concerned but Kurzweil takes it to mean that technology will solve all problems of humanity. In terms of education, technology will allow information to flow to all corners of the Earth and enhance our intelligence. This idea of merging technology and education is at the forefront of the education debate but is true that technology improves education? No. Technology may be able to make more information available to you but what is more important is that you have a teacher who cares, not only about teaching you, but trying to make you care. The idea of technology as saving us is also applied to the environmental debate. That the way we solve Global Warming is through new technologies that will provide more sustainable energy. But the real problem remains, which is the fact that humanity believes themselves to above nature, that money is more important than nature and people. Whenever technology solves one problem, it creates ten more in its place. This idea of technology as a savior is basically nothing more than a new religion. Alan Drengson, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Victoria says, “Technology and science represent the cross and church; Technotopia replaced paradise.”

It’s this idea that we live in a terrible world and technology will save us. But the same critique of religion can be placed on technology that: when you place value on otherworldly ideals (heaven, technotopia) then you necessarily devalue this world. Caring about this world, the people of this world, no longer matters because all that matters is the next world that will be “better”. The final problem is that of the possibility of A.I. Scientist are stuck in the framework that humans are these rational computing mechanisms and therefore they can replicate our intelligence just by writing computer programs. John Haugeland, professor of Philosophy at the University of Chicago, says in Being in the World, “Perhaps I can reach to one of the most fundamental aspects about the difference between human being and machines by adverting to something about each of us with which we are all deeply familiar. That is that it matters to us what happens in the world. It matters to us what happens to us, that it matters to us what happens to our friends, it matters to us the progress of science and philosophy. Those are things to build a life on that one can summarize in the phrase: giving a damn. And if you have that phrase then you can say in a word what A.I. has so far failed to come up with, by saying: the trouble with computers is that they don’t give a damn.”

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