The Unedited
Free space for free expression in English & Italian
(Un)Edited by Carlo Pelanda
Managed by F.Brunelli e L.Borgiani


By Libby Carter 

An important problem in the theory of knowledge has been the status of the belief in other minds, the belief that one's own consciousness is not the only consciousness in existence. There is the view that the best way to explain the complex behavior of other bodies, especially their ability to behave rationally and in particular to speak and communicate information, is to postulate other minds at work.

Remarkable progress in the development of high-speed electronic computers has led many philosophers to conclude that a suitably programmed computer with a sufficient memory capacity would have an actual mind capable of intelligent thought. The term artificial intelligence denotes the area of investigation that aims to develop computers with such capabilities.

Two questions are intensely debated in this field. First, what are the theoretical limits to what can be achieved in the way of artificial intelligence? Despite phenomenal progress in recent years, no computer yet devised approximates in its capacity the powers of the human mind. However, it would be most unwise at present to make dogmatic predictions about future developments. Second, assuming that the optimistic hopes of artificial intelligence researchers are realized, would such devices literally have minds or would they be mere limitations of minds? It is already common linguistic practice to describe computers as having memories, making inferences, understanding one language or another, and the like, but are such descriptions literally true or simply metaphorical? The capacity of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot device to perform tasks commonly associated with the higher intellectual processes characteristic of humans, such as the ability to reason, discover meaning, generalize, or learn from past experience is very controversial. One group holds that computers will never be more than tools employed by the human intelligence to aid its own thinking. Another group holds that human intelligence itself consists of the very computational processes that could be exemplified by advance machines, so that it would be unreasonable to deny the attribution of intelligence to such machines. I personally agree with the latter.

The theory and insights brought about by artificial intelligence research will set the trend in the future of computing. The products available today are only bits and pieces of what are soon to follow, but they are a movement towards the future of artificial intelligence. The advancements in the quest for artificial intelligence have, and will continue to affect our jobs, our education, and our lives. It is crucial for the continued existence of the human species to create a control system to channel this technological revolution in a safe manner.

In his article "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us,?Bill Joy assesses one of the many threats he feels is posed by artificial intelligence:

"The 21st-century technologies -genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics (GNR)- are so powerful that they can spawn whole new classes of accidents and abuses. Most dangerously, for the first time, these accidents and abuses are widely within the reach of individuals or small groups. They will not require large facilities or rare raw materials. Knowledge alone will enable the use of them."

Joy's cause for concern is not unfounded. However, these accidents and abuses can be prevented by using this knowledge in a positive, beneficial manner that is for the good of mankind. For instance, breakthroughs in medicine have helped to prolong lives as well as merely improve the quality of life. Any scientific endeavor has moral and ethical implications which should be adhered to in all instances, most importantly those possible of having adverse affects on the human population.

Joy also argues:

"Perhaps it is always hard to see the bigger impact while you are in the vortex of a change. Failing to understand the consequences of our own inventions while we are in the rapture of discovery and innovation seems to be a common fault of scientists and technologists; we have long been driven by the overarching desire to know what is the nature of science's quest, not stopping to notice that the progress to newer and more powerful technologies can take a life of its own."

It is pertinent in today's high paced, technologically advanced world to learn from the mistakes in the past and work to prevent making the same ones in the future. While no one knows exactly what the possible repercussions of artificial intelligence may be, it is undeniable that the advances in technology made over the past couple of decades has significantly improved the quality of life for the vast majority of individuals. Not only has the technological revolution provided numerous job opportunities, but it has also catered, in a sense, to the needs of the general public by offering ease and convenience. For example, one no longer is forced to go to the library when researching a particular topic. Instead, he can simply access the needed materials from the comfort of his own home via the internet. The advancements of the future should be extremely carefully monitored to ensure the safety and quality of the inventions.

The largest computer memories now contain elementary circuits that are comparable in number to the synaptic connections (about 10 trillion) in the human brain, and they operate at speeds that are faster than elementary neural speeds. The challenge driving artificial intelligence research is to understand how computers? capabilities must be organized in order to reproduce the many kinds of mental activity that are comprised by the term "thinking. Artificial intelligence research has thus focused on understanding the mechanisms involved in human mental tasks and on designing software that performs similarly, starting with relatively simple ones and continually progressing to levels of greater complexity.

Some computer programs that are used to perform artificial intelligence tasks are designed to manipulate symbolic information at extremely high speeds, in order to compensate for their partial lack of human knowledge and selectivity. Other programs are designed to stimulate human capabilities for problem solving through the use of highly selective search and recognition methods. Programs have also been developed which allow computers to comprehend commands in a natural language. The ability to identify graphic patterns or images is associated with artificial intelligence, since it involves both cognition and abstraction. As time progresses, the capabilities of these machines will be even greater. Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, criticizes the human capabilities of these machines by stating,

"As society and the problems that face it become more and more complex and machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make more of their decisions for them, simply because machine-made decisions will bring better results than man-made ones. Eventually a stage may be reached at which decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently.

Once again, this is a sound argument which I feel has merit. The problems Kaczynski fears can be combated though. The educational requirements of public and private schools must be enhanced to ensure that a generation of intelligent beings is produced. It is important to go beyond the educational standards of our parents?generation as well as our own generation in order to optimize thought processes on every level. The next generation must be intellectual enough to think without these machines but informed enough to know how to successfully co-exist with them.

Many people are skeptical about artificial intelligence because they feel such advancements are against God's will. A counter argument to this is that God wouldn't have given humans the ability to create and manipulate life had he not wanted us to use it. It simply needs to be done in a manner consistent with the best interests of the general public. One group also argues that humans?creation of such machines is not a natural process. But is it not natural to gain the knowledge and insight to better our lives and then put it to use in order to improve the standard of living?

People still remain unsure of the safety of artificial intelligence, but with all the breakthroughs and the use of modern technology, artificial intelligence is progressing extremely rapidly. With the use of new "thinking?robots in agriculture, industry, NASA, and the military, the advance of artificial intelligence is astonishing. Since this revolution is inevitable, a way must be discovered which allows this to occur in a safe, productive fashion. The actual implementation of such artificial intelligence programs, in my opinion, will ever enrich and enhance the lives of humans. Consider the emergence of the internet. It has provided humans with an easy and reliable source of information as well as a way to communicate with others. It is now possible to gain access to nearly every store, purchase any item, or just become informed with just the press of a few buttons. Imagine the benefits that would come from the creation a machine with artificial intelligence. Who knows, soon "thinking?robots may be so common we will not even think of the struggles and hard work that it took to get to that point. Farmers may not have to drive plows, robots may pilot choppers in the army, and doctors will be following a robot's advice. This is no longer science fiction; it is reality. 

By UGA students