Are We Spiritual Machines?: Ray Kurzweil vs. the Critics of Strong AI Paperback – 31 Mar 2002
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About the Author
Jay W. Richards, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a contributing editor at The American magazine (american.com) and the Enterprise Blog (blog.american.com) at the American Enterprise Institute. Richards has been featured in the New York Times and The Washington Post, and he has appeared on Larry King Live. He also has lectured on economic myths to members of the U.S. Congress.
Ray Kurzweil is one of the world s leading inventors, thinkers, and futurists, with a thirty-year track record of accurate predictions. Called the restless genius by The Wall Street Journal and the ultimate thinking machine by Forbes magazine, Kurzweil was selected as one of the top entrepreneurs by Inc. magazine, which described him as the rightful heir to Thomas Edison. PBS selected him as one of the sixteen revolutionaries who made America. Kurzweil was the principal inventor of the first CCD flat-bed scanner, the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments, and the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition. A recipient of the National Medal of Technology, Kurzweil was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and holds nineteen honorary doctorates, as well as honors from three U.S. presidents.
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Top Customer Reviews
Kurzweil explains his materialistic view and expectations of machine consciousness in the near future of computing, receives rebuttals from critics and other experts in the field and then responds to those essays.
A fascinating and thought-provoking glimpse into the future of conscious agents.
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The controversy behind Kurzweil stems from his recent book "The Age of Spirtual Machines", which is a detailed accounting of his predictions and beliefs regarding artificial intelligence. Many individuals objected to his visions and predictions, and he answers a few of them in this book. In particular, he attempts to counter the arguments against him by the philosopher John Searle, the molecular biologist Michael Denton, the philosopher William A. Dembski, and zoologist Thomas Ray. With only a few minor exceptions, Kurzweil is successful in his refutation of their assertions.
But even if Kurzweil completely refutes the arguments of these individuals, and possibly many more against him, the countering of arguments will not by itself solve the problems in artificial intelligence research. The fact remains that much work still needs to be done before we are priveleged to see the rise of intelligent machines. Kurzweil is well-aware of this, for he acknowledges this many times in this book. He points to reverse engineering of the human brain as one of the most promising strategies to bring in the robotic presence. The success or failure of this strategy will take the mind-body problem out of purely academic circles and bring it to the forefront of practical research in artificial intelligence. The 21st century will thus see the rise of the "industrial philosopher", who works in the laboratory beside the programmers, cognitive scientists, robot engineers, and neurologists.
Each reader of this book will of course have their own opinions on Kurzweil's degree of success in countering the arguments of Searle, Denton, Dembski, and Ray. But one thing is very clear: Kurzweil is no arm-chair philosopher engaging in purely academic debates on the mind-body problem. He is right in the thick of the research and development of artificial intelligence, and if the future turns out as he predicts, he will certainly be one of the individuals contributing to it. He and many others currently working in artificial intelligence are responsible for major advances in this field in just the last few years. Their ingenuity and discipline is admirable in a field that has experienced a roller coaster ride of confidence and disappointment in the preceding decades. All of these individuals have proved themselves to be superb thinking machines.
What Kuzweil means by computers someday becoming 'spiritual' is that they may become conscious, and 'strong A.I.' is the view that "any computational process sufficiently capable of altering or organizing itself can produce consciousness." The first part of this book is an introduction to all of the above views by Kurzweil, followed by criticisms by four authors, followed in turn by Kurzweil as he refutes these criticisms.
Personally, I found most of the views expounded by the critics here to be either non-sensical, or 'beside the point'. One critic says that the life support functions of the brain cannot be separated from it's information processing function. Of course it can be, even the effects of hormones can be programmed into a downloaded brain, as well as other chemicals used by brains. Another critic states that possibly evolution is in error, and yet another criticism is that our machines will not be able to contact a divine entity and would thus be inferior.... give me a break, well...perhaps this is all true and maybe pigs will one day fly over the moon unassisted. I could go on and on, but this is the job of Ray Kurzweil and he defends himself admirably in the final chapters of this volume. Kurzweil does mention in this book that brain scanning machines are improving their resolution with each new generation, and eventually will reach a point where they should be able to image individual neurons and synapses in large areas, and allow the brain 'software' to be transferred to a suitable non-biological computing medium, my only criticism of Kurzweil here is that I think he should discuss this technology more, and where it is headed, his next book would be a great place for this.
One final point, it seems to me that when a new idea appears to be difficult and complicated to achieve, the pessimist says: "This is difficult and complicated, and may not work", whereas the optimist says: "This is difficult and complicated, but may work". Only time will tell for sure.
Esteemed AI advocate Ray Kurzweil opens the volume arguing that by 2019, a personal computer will rival the processing power of the human brain. He is convinced that artificial intelligence--with the capability to "feel" and think like a human--will necessarily emerge. The twenty-first century will see a blurring of the line between human and machine as neural implants become more prevalent. Eventually, machines will become "spiritual"--or as Kurzweil means it, "conscious."
Kurzweil also sees an analogy between technological evolution and traditional accounts of Darwinian evolution. Under Darwinism, life-forms took billions of years to develop but then exploded in short burst of diversification. Kurzweil calls this the "law of accelerating returns" where technological innovation in the 20th century surpassed all previous centuries combined. At this rate, computation power currently doubles every year. By 2050, a personal computer will have the computing power of all the human brains on earth. Kurzweil believes that simply by reverse-engineering the human mind it can be reproduced. Eventually, human minds will be downloaded and "cloned." He then envisions software-based "humans" which can effectively live forever, or at least as long as their hardware lasts. Humans can become like God.
Skeptics of Kurzweil then have their chance to respond. John Searle explains that when Deep Blue beat Gary Kasparov, that Deep Blue wasn't really "thinking" about chess while Kasparov fully understood the game he was playing. Deep Blue could duplicate the playing of chess, but wasn't really "playing chess." In short, Kurzweil would say "if it looks the same and feels the same, then it really is the same." Searle pushes us to ask deeper questions: "Is it really the same?"
Michael Denton makes a similar argument: he concedes that if living organisms really are in all respects analogous to inorganic machines, then Kurzweil may very well be right. But Denton has doubts. Living organisms undergo complete reproduction of both "hardware" and "software"--something that no machine can do. Moreover, living organisms cannot be reduced to genes--meaning that something more than "software" is necessary for life.
Discovery Institute Fellow William Dembski takes aim at Kurzweil's arguments about "impoverished spirituality." Materialism predicts that mind is reducible to matter. Dembski writes that "[m]achine spirituality neglects much that has traditionally been classified under spirituality" for "[t]he spiritual experience of a machine is necessarily poorer than the spiritual experience of a being that communes with God." "How," Dembski asks, "can a machine be aware of God's presence?" There is something vastly deficient about Kurzweil's conceptions of spirituality.
This debate will likely not end any time soon but may be concluded based upon how technology advances in this century. For a preview of debates to come, the prophecies of Kurzweil--and the responses from critics--are well worth reading. Fifty years from now, one side will be able to say "We were right."