Soon a robot will ask you if you want fries with that. Computer screens already do, in some locales. How does that make you feel?
That could be taken more than one way. Hungry because you like fries and relish the idea of them rolling out of the fat efficiently and quietly. Or hungry because you lost your job asking the question the robot is now asking.
The Pontifical Academy of Sciences convened “Power and Limitations of Artificial Intelligence“, and its partial purpose was to ask hungry-like questions. For instance, if we could invent AI-robots to do the work of whatever it is those poor slobs do in soul-sucking cubicles and in the meeting rooms of dreary office buildings, we will have done mankind a great service.
But never mind economic questions, which are easy to sort. Let’s ask the harder questions, presented in the same order as on the Vatican’s site.
What is the state of the art in AI software and machine learning?
Machines don’t “learn”; they just adjust values of parameters in man-created equations. The adjustments themselves flow along pre-determined lines. They are not alive.
Can all aspects of brain function be mimicked by artificial systems?
Not in the sense that a machine will have an intellect and will as we do. And it’s even doubtful we can replicate the fine behavior of the quantum mechanical interactions happening when neurons meet. We can simulate some level of detail, of course. But simulation isn’t replication.
Will machines soon surpass us in all domains of human competence?
No. Emphatically no. Not only no but…listen. Our intellects and wills, as was proved many times in this series, are incorporeal. They are not bodies. They are not made of physical stuff. They therefore cannot be created by us. Machines can never possess rationality as we do. Machines can’t be us.
On the other hand, machines have, from day one, surpassed human competence. That’s why we have machines! You cannot run as fast or as far an automobile, nor calculate digits of π as quickly as a calculator, and on and on.
What is the proper form of mathematics that may capture the operation of minds and brains?
Hint: linear regression isn’t going to be it. Since the intellect and will and incorporeal, and thus without material dimension, and thus indestructible, we’re dealing with some form of infinity. Which? Counting infinities? The continuum? Something higher? I have no idea. Equations that can simulate gross and approximate brain and nerve chemistry have already been found, and will improve. But what equations show how the incorporeal interacts with the corporeal? Can they even be found? I doubt.
What is consciousness? Could a machine be endowed with an artificial consciousness?
Animals have consciousness, and so do we, and plants and rocks do not. But we have more than consciousness. We have intellect and will, which are above (if you like) mere consciousness. The Catholic Encyclopedia says consciousness “cannot, strictly speaking, be defined. In its widest sense it includes all our sensations, thoughts, feelings, and volitions–in fact the sum total of our mental life”; it goes on to discuss these aspects.
See also this series by Feser: Nagel and his critics.
What would it take for a machine to possess a sense of self?
A miracle. Or an angelic fraud. Unless the questions means sense of self of the same sort animals have. It may be possible to create a biochemical machine which is an animal. But that sounds like genetic engineering. Cross a dachshund with a dove. Result? A flying sausage with a sense of self.
Will intelligent machines soon pose a danger to humanity?
Again, from day one, machines have been a help and hindrance. Cars crash, calculators give wrong results, and so on. So it won’t be a surprise to have a programming glitch in the new robot kitchen helpers that mistake the range of allowable things to chop.
Is it possible to design and construct an intelligent robot endowed with an artificial sense of ethics?
No. It will only do what it’s told. That can result in complex programming which fools some into thinking they are dealing with an ethical machine. The Turing test is no great thing. To have ethics, there must be morals, and morals imply sin, and sin is something that roosts in the will and intellect. So we’re back to the same problem.
How can we enhance the humanitarian uses of artificial intelligence and robotics, in particular in the field of education, health and emergencies?
Through massive government spending, of course.