187 Big Thinkers Answer the Question: What Do You Think About Machines That Think?

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It’s time, again, for Edge.org’s annual question. The 2015 edition asks 187 accomplished (and in some cases celebrated) thinkers to answer the question: What Do You Think About Machines That Think?

John Brockman, the literary über agent and founder of Edge.org, fleshes the question out a bit, writing:

In recent years, the 1980s-era philosophical discussions about artificial intelligence (AI)—whether computers can “really” think, refer, be conscious, and so on—have led to new conversations about how we should deal with the forms that many argue actually are implemented. These “AIs”, if they achieve “Superintelligence” (Nick Bostrom), could pose “existential risks” that lead to “Our Final Hour” (Martin Rees). And Stephen Hawking recently made international headlines when he noted “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

But wait! Should we also ask what machines that think, or, “AIs”, might be thinking about? Do they want, do they expect civil rights? Do they have feelings? What kind of government (for us) would an AI choose? What kind of society would they want to structure for themselves? Or is “their” society “our” society? Will we, and the AIs, include each other within our respective circles of empathy?

Numerous Edgies have been at the forefront of the science behind the various flavors of AI, either in their research or writings. AI was front and center in conversations between charter members Pamela McCorduck (Machines Who Think) and Isaac Asimov (Machines That Think) at our initial meetings in 1980. And the conversation has continued unabated, as is evident in the recent Edge feature “The Myth of AI”, a conversation with Jaron Lanier, that evoked rich and provocative commentaries.

Is AI becoming increasingly real? Are we now in a new era of the “AIs”? To consider this issue, it’s time to grow up. Enough already with the science fiction and the movies, Star Maker, Blade Runner, 2001, Her, The Matrix, “The Borg”. Also, 80 years after Turing’s invention of his Universal Machine, it’s time to honor Turing, and other AI pioneers, by giving them a well-deserved rest. We know the history. (See George Dyson’s 2004 Edge feature “Turing’s Cathedral”.) So, once again, this time with rigor, the Edge Question—2015: WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT MACHINES THAT THINK?

The replies — 187 in total — feature thoughts by Brian EnoDouglas CouplandKevin Kelly, Esther Dyson, and Daniel Dennett, among others. You can access the complete collection of responses here.

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  • Mike F says:

    I want to see someone do a video for this again!!

  • William L says:

    Machines that “think”? Consciousness in a machine is inherently unachievable. AI’rs confuse calculating with consciousness. A machine, no matter how many off/on switches it contains, will never possess true consciousness.

  • dr. prabhakar madhikar says:

    Consciousness is knowing about one’s own thinking. That capacity AI may develop. But, the human capacity of ‘being conscious’ of becoming conscious of one’s own thinking by virtue of calculations that an AI has to do, may never be possible! At least, I hope so.

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