Sunday, May 12, 2013

Created Equal

A clever multi-field science fellow noted the non-verbal components of human interaction ... and taught a robot how to do them!

The eyebrow lift and forward lean that means interest, the cross-torso arm movements that defends against.  The robot was a winner in experiments with people; they felt like it really understood ...

Beyond that, others have experimented with robot detection and response to those human expressions, even learning from them.  That's a robot learning(!!!) from human expression and discovering acceptable behavior in the social context illuminated from the expressions only!   What a fascinating opportunity for a foray into the unknown.

Intriguing questions emerge about the significance of artificial intelligence and how it compares to its human counterpart.
Will we eventually create our equals?
Robots are programmed, of course.  Humans are programmed as well after a fashion.
In us, there are the programmed basics of breathing and heartbeat; things that are built in before birth that we don't have to learn.  Then there are things we learn over time (we're being programmed?) like skills and facts and behavioral norms.  Some are difficult things to learn like grammar or roller skating or driving a car, but once acquired they require little thought.
Are we all directed along rigid lines by the past, programming over which we have had no control?  Or is there in humans a different element than what might be possible in a machine?
The relevant question for which science currently has no adequate answer involves the nature of our mind as a computational center. Does it function according to programming?  
    Of course.  
Does that therefore suggest that we are on a fixed path according to our programming?
     Of course.
Are we then safe in assuming we have neither choice nor free will to choose against our programming.
     That would be the only logical follow-on, and in its narrowness and implications, it's a bit troublesome.  
As we observe our own minds, we are each persuaded we have a choice.  I will or I won't.  I should because ..., so....
We recognize the limits of our culture, our education, and our own sensibilities, but we're still persuaded that within those real constraints, we can choose.

If we are programmed and without choice, we have no culpability in any harm we might do.  Neither do we have any claim to virtue in the good we might do.

The question of free will ... ranks amongst the three or four most important philosophical problems of all time.

It ramifies into ethics, theology, metaphysics, and psychology. The view adopted in response to it will determine a man's position in regard to the most momentous issues that present themselves to the human mind. On the one hand, does man possess genuine moral freedom, power of real choice, true ability to determine the course of his thoughts and volitions, to decide which motives shall prevail within his mind, to modify and mould his own character? Or, on the other, are man's thoughts and volitions, his character and external actions, all merely the inevitable outcome of his circumstances? Are they all inexorably predetermined in every detail along rigid lines by events of the past, over which he himself has had no sort of control? This is the real import of the free-will problem.
From Free Will by Sam Harris
A belief in free will touches everything that human beings value. It is difficult to think about law, politics, religion, public policy, intimate relationships, morality - as well as feelings of remorse or personal achievement - without first imagining that every person is the true source of his or her thoughts and actions. Yet science today suggests that free will is an illusion.

Will we eventually create our equals?  Or is there something about humanity that isn't programmable? The immediate future will not likely provide us an answer that resolves the debate.  The diverse positions among scientists, philosophers, and the general public suggest many hold positions of preference rather than of evidence and objective reasoning.  Serious inquiry elicits emotional intensity and fear on many fronts.  Soon though; soon.  We'll need to understand our own position in the melee.

Curious what scholars say on the subject?
Here's the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on the free will.

... do you have moral freedom, the power to choose? Can you choose the course of your thoughts? Can you decide which motives will prevail within your mind?  Can you deliberately modify and mould your own character?
Good news; we can.  Of course.
There are many things for which science
 has as yet no explanation. From art to music
to love and the unplumbed depths of
nonverbal content, little insight is
 offered by the supposed
computation process.