This is the conclusion to the blog Ray Kurzweil and the Appearance of Consciousness (I).
I am the skeptic and have several problems with Kurzweil (besides his apparent assumption that a brain is simply a computer that crunches data without emotion, intuition, creativity or faith). One problem is he defines some terms in unusual ways to make them fit his ideas. For example, Kurzweil says:
“…abortion… is fundamentally a debate about when a fetus becomes a conscious person.”
That is not exactly the debate at all. The issue of abortion is a definition of what it is to be human – whether or not the fertilized ovum is conscious, it is human. Are we at any point in our development from the moment of conception anything but human? Those who believe in the sanctity of human life do believe that there is no moment in human development in which the zygote is not human, which is why we believe in respecting the life of the unborn growing in its mother’s womb.
Kurzweil’s definition of abortion as a debate about when a fetus becomes a conscious person fits well into his redefining what it is to be human. For Kurzweil is a gnostic and he sees the body as that which limits our existence and he wants to escape the body. By redefining a human as merely a conscious person, he is able to ignore the fact that consciousness is integrated with the brain as body organ. By reducing a human to consciousness he sees the moment of singularity when consciousness and electronic intelligence become one as the real goal of creation. This same definition allows him to make living beings out of computers who also are ‘conscious.’
This reduction of humans to a consciousness which is merely a version of an electronic existence reminds me very much of Raymond Tallis’ book, APING MANKIND:NEUROMANIA, DARWINITIS AND THE MISREPRESENTATION OF HUMANITY. In that book Tallis criticizes scientists who by describing animal behavior anthropomorphically embrace a notion that there is no difference between human intelligence and human consciousness and that intelligence and consciousness which is found in the rest of the animal kingdom. Tallis says this false elimination of real differences between humans and all other animals results in “the Disneyficaton of animal consciousness” meaning we really psychologize all animal behavior reading into animals human emotions and logic and then also we animalize human behavior. We assume that animals think like humans, and we come to believe that humans are nothing more than an animal. These notions are false and both Tallis and Michael S. Gazzaniga in his book, WHO’S IN CHARGE?: FREE WILL AND THE SCIENCE OF THE BRAIN, point out there is a vast, significant and scientifically measurable difference both qualitatively and quantitatively between human consciousness and intelligence and that of our nearest animal relatives, the chimpanzees. (see my blog The Brainless Bible and the Mindless Delusion of Self)
“My prediction is that tomorrow’s machines will become indistinguishable from biological humans, and they will share in the spiritual value we ascribe to consciousness. This is not a disparagement of people; rather, it is an elevation of our understanding of (some) future machines.”
Evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson could not disagree more. In his book, The Social Conquest of Earth, Wilson, who is an atheist himself says:
“I am further inclined to discount the widespread belief that robotic intelligence will in the near future overtake and potentially replace human intelligence. This will certainly occur in the categories of raw memory, computation, and synthesis of information. Algorithms might in time be written that simulate emotional responses and human-like processes of decision-making. Yet even at their most extreme and effective, these creations will still be robots.” (Kindle Loc. 1693-97)
(see my blog, Evolution and the Ethical Human) Wilson writes as a well respected biologist who has no use for theism, and as a man who tends to see humans as not really different than any other life form produced by the evolutionary process which affects the genome of every species on earth.
Robert Ito, “The Love Bot”, writing in the Pacific Standard (November/December 2012) raises questions about the confused notion that AI is just another form of human consciousness. He says:
“Robots already are used extensively in Japan to help take care of older people, which concerns Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and self. ‘The elderly, at the end of their lives, deserve to work out the meaning of their lives with someone who understand what it means to be born, to have parents, to consider the question of children, to fear death,’ says Turkle. ‘That someone has to be a person. That doesn’t mean that robots can’t help with household chores. But as companions, I think it is the wrong choice.’”
“But Turkle wonders if such human-robot relationships are inherently deceptive, because they encourage people to feel things for machines that can’t feel anything. Robots are programmed to say I love you when they can’t love.”
That seems to me to be the failure of Kurzweil’s thinking. For Kurzweil practices a reductionism which strips away from humans all the things which make them human (intuition, emotion, creativity, theorizing, imagining, loving, forgiving, empathy, sympathy, altruism, etc) and focuses solely on a notion of consciousness which is also reduced to electronic pulses. He imagines that consciousness alone is what it is to be human, and then fantasizes that this consciousness is not organically integrated with the body.
His is the stuff of science fiction, and my prediction is it will remain there.
(see also my blog: The Brain, the Mind, Intelligence and Existence)