Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Future is a Disappointment

says my AI lecturer, talking about how he read Isaac Asimov's I Robot as a kid, and now iRobot is a company that makes ... extremely limited robotic vacuum cleaners.  (They don't clean well but combined with cats they make a pretty good youtube meme.)  He's lecturing right now about whether computers can achieve consciousness.  I've got my fingers crossed for no.  I think the moral and legal ramifications would be tedious.

By the way writing this in the lecture isn't bad behaviour on my part, it's live-blogging.

If he allows questions at the end I will ask how on earth he thinks we'd identify machine consciousness given that people aren't agreed on how conscious animals are.  The tests for animal consciousness are terrible, and often turn out to be culturally-specific for humans, like the thing where you put a dot on a person or animal when they're not looking and see if they remove it when shown themselves in a mirror.

He just said "a real mouse is surely conscious in some sense".  Hmmm.  Oh scientists, you are just too vague.  That's how the future has disappointed me.  He says it's conscious because he doesn't want anyone to torture it.  But I used to feel like that about my teddy bear.  (I still do, a bit.)

Now he's talking about creating zombie mice.  This is pretty cool stuff really.  They're not going to bother to think too hard about what a mouse is, they're just going to try to make one anyway.  I think that's one of the things that's likeable about the sciences, the optimism.  But it is a bit wierd to find myself thinking of the humanities as the practical branch of knowledge, and the sciences as unrealistic, naive.

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