Thursday, November 6, 2008

Artificial Intelligence and Personal Identity

Today at Baylor's Science and Human Nature conference I am giving a talk where I argue that absurdities follow from the assumption that a robot is a person. For a quick argument, note that the question of how many persons there are ought always to have an objective answer, but the question of how many robots there does not always have an objective answer. (Think of a larger robot made up of smaller ones, for instance.)

9 comments:

Paul said...

Dr. Pruss,

Perhaps whoever coined the phrase "artificial intelligence" (was it Herbert Simon?) should have more correctly used the term computer intelligence or robot intelligence because there is nothing artificial about that. Also never have I seen a definition for person that could include anything but a human (unless you are talking to a lawyer). Are you recording your talk? I'd love to hear a podcast of it.

wrf3 said...

I'll read your paper in depth in a little while; for now, did you ever see the Star Trek: TNG episode "Measure of a Man"? It asked the same question about the android, Data. The "Power Switch" argument was used by Cmdr. Riker to try to show that Data was just a toaster.

wrf3 said...

You wrote: But exactly the same point can be made about humans. If all there is to us is a bunch of molecules and a bunch of data encoded in these molecules, then questions of personal identity do not always have objective answers.

I think this is wrong. The objective answer would be that the personal identity is the molecules and data.

If these questions are to have objective answers, there must be more to us than just molecules and data.

Along with the above objection, why must there be objective answers? Which observer(s) constitute the "base" frame of reference? Have we proven that solipsism is really not an accurate description of reality?

What could be this “more” that makes answers possible? It has a traditional name: “soul.”

"Soul" is ill-defined, as the your next question shows:

If my brain is split in half, where do I go? Well, if I have a soul, then I can say that the question is ill-defined.

This assumes that your "soul" resides in you and not in God. Is it not the orthodox position that the person survives the lack of physicality? If so, if your brain were split in half, you would still exist in the mind of God ["in Him we live and move and have our being"].

Referring back to an earlier objection: But there is no understanding on the part of the computer as yet—there is just the non-conscious processing of patterns of characters, with no responsibility or thought.

But, see here, which attempts to show that much of our decision making is based on un/sub-conscious processing.

Too, the argument from responsibility is fraught with peril. We are not responsible because we are free (since Scripture is clear that man does not have free will); we are responsible by divine fiat.

I would attempt a counter-argument something like this, stating up front that this isn't rigorous, and is just an outline.

Suppose there is no God. Then we are "meat machines", where what we think is our "I-ness" is an emergent property of the processing of our neurons. Suppose we replaced each neuron in our brain, one by one, with a mechanical equivalent. We would still be us. Since that is so, we should be able to duplicate this effect in a machine.

Suppose there is a God and that our "I-ness" is a product of His "spark" in us. It's an open question whether or not we can duplicate that spark say, via software. John Searle says we can't, but this is fiercely debated.

Alexander R Pruss said...

If I understood him rightly, an interesting comment made to me last night by Boris Bratus, a Russian psychologist, was that the while the computer is characterized by following programs, the human is characterized by going against them.

Alexander R Pruss said...

0. A recording of the talk will eventually be up on the Society of Christian Philosophers website.

1. It is a part of the concept of a person that a person is a being. And it is a part of the concept of a being, that there is an objective fact of the matter about what it is and is not identical with.

2. It seems to be a category mistake to say that personal identity is the molecules and data. Molecules and data are (is?) not a relation.

3. I don't see why one should say that if God doesn't exist, then we're soulless. Of course, God is the creator of our souls. But likewise, God is the creator of our lungs, and we don't want to say that if God doesn't exist, then we're lungless.

wrf3 said...

1. It is a part of the concept of a person that a person is a being. And it is a part of the concept of a being, that there is an objective fact of the matter about what it is and is not identical with.

I can understand that you want to define it that way, but this is a case of defining something when we don't know what the identity function is. You're assuming that the identity function is objective. I'm not so sure of the obviousness of this.

2. It seems to be a category mistake to say that personal identity is the molecules and data. Molecules and data are (is?) not a relation.

In a naturalist word, molecules and data are all you have. Intelligence would be an emergent property of the configuration of the brain.

3. I don't see why one should say that if God doesn't exist, then we're soulless. Of course, God is the creator of our souls. But likewise, God is the creator of our lungs, and we don't want to say that if God doesn't exist, then we're lungless.

Now this is a category error. Souls are immaterial; lungs are not. It's also a definitional problem; after all, what is a soul? If God is the Author of everything, we are His characters, and our "souls" are what we are in His mind.

Derrick said...

"Now this is a category error. Souls are immaterial; lungs are not. It's also a definitional problem; after all, what is a soul? If God is the Author of everything, we are His characters, and our "souls" are what we are in His mind."

First, I think that you are taking the author-creation analogy way too literally. It's simply an analogy, and like all analogies, it breaks down. God creates things in an act analogous to literary authorship, but, unlike the author-literary work relationship, the world and all it exists dependently yet externally of God.
Second, I *think* that what Dr. Pruss is trying to say is that if it was the case that God being the author of everything entailed that souls were merely intentional, why *wouldn't* it be the same material objects? God as author of everything would be author of the material world, wouldn't he? I guess another way of puting this is asking why would you think that being non-physical implies having merely intentional existence (that is, existence only in a mind) in this case? You seem to be assuming this in your comments, but, it's not clear to me what's motivating you to make this distinction.

Nightvid said...

The same argument would lead you to conclude that conjoined twins do not exist - which is obviously absurd. (or somewhere on the continuum from, say, a person with an extra foot to conjoined twins, surely it isn't ALWAYS trivial to count the number of people!)

Alexander R Pruss said...

Surely there is no controversy here: everyone agrees that conjoined twins are two people.