Thursday, February 17, 2011

Computers Win

I'm struck with the fact that a computer beat two human contestants on Jeopardy.  We've all enjoyed iRobot, Matrix, Terminator, and all the sci-fi movies where computers take over the world.  I am struck by the very real possibility that the thought experiment could one day be a reality.

It is naive to think that there is anything a computer could not be programmed to "simulate."  Emotion, moral values, virtue, vice, intellect, research capacity--I have little doubt but that these processes could one day not long from now be programmed in a manner that gave a robot the appearance of much greater consistency than anyone in your neighborhood.  This brings a number of related thoughts:

1. At first, robots and machines replaced those who do hard labor.  Next, they will replace doctors and researchers.  Why go to a doctor who is very fallible?  Why not go to a robot who is better than any human diagnostician could ever be?

2. Our sense of these things is generally very simplistic.  The American ethos makes fun of taking classes on things like psychology or the brain, then thinks its opinion is as valid as any other on these sorts of matters.  The physical structure of the brain can account for far more than we would like to think in the areas of emotion, religious experience, and values.

Here's the bottom line: the notion that the existence of a detachable soul might be necessary to account for human processes is an act of faith--and one many Christians do not think is dictated by Scripture or creed.  It could turn out that the word "simulate" in relation to robotic thought is a rather artificial distinction.  I am not taking a position here, since the answer seems unprovable at present.  I am simply saying that at present, it is unclear what "mind process" is not accounted for adequately by the physical brain.

Just to fend off alarm, if you are unfamiliar with this discussion, those like Joel Green who take this position believe in the afterlife, believe in human moral responsibility, etc.  They just consider language of the soul as metaphorical and unbiblical.  I have blogged on this before.

3. This also bears on some of the, in my opinion, naive statements sometimes made about God.  For example, many say that God became Jesus so he could learn what it felt like to be human, as if emotional and experiential knowledge are fundamentally distinguishable from cognitive knowledge.  For God this distinction is nonsensical.  God created emotions, experiences, and even the potential to sin.  Omniscience means that God must know not only "intellectual" truths, but experiential ones as well.  This distinction is meaningless on the level of God.

Some thoughts on Jeopardy ;-)

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