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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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Com­put­er Sci­ence Cours­es

Noam Chom­sky Explains Where Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Went Wrong

Isaac Asi­mov Explains His Three Laws of Robots

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Comments (3)
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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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