Recently, Walter Bradley Center Director Robert J. Marks interviewed human dignity advocate Wesley J. Smith on the seeming science fiction question “Can a computer be a person?” (November 10, 2022, podcast 212):
Here are some highlights:
Wesley J. Smith: I was going to ask you about Alexa because she might be coming up behind me. Of course, it’s not a her. It’s just a female voice. But I can ask, we’ll call her A, so she doesn’t come, what time it is and she’ll tell me right away. I can tell her to play a certain music and she will play it immediately. How does it work? I mean, she’s not… This program isn’t smart, is it?
Robert J. Marks: No, this is not the case. We come back to something that John Searle mentioned as the reason the AI can’t understand. He said that, I don’t know Chinese, but imagine me in a room with a bunch of filing cabinets and slipped through the doors a little question that’s written in Chinese. And he said, “I’ll go into these filing cabinets and watch till I get a match.” I don’t know what it says, but I’ll watch until I get a match and I’ll copy the answer and I’ll slip that Chinese answer out the door.
The Chinese Room experience:
Robert J. Marks: Now, from the outside, it looks like everything inside this room knows Chinese, understands Chinese, and that’s just amazing. But Searle in the room doesn’t understand Chinese. It’s the same with Alexa. When you ask Alexa a problem, it’s in this gigantic room, which probably includes all of Wikipedia. We have the memory and we have the computing resources to do it now. It’s in this huge room. It does some language recognition on your voice, and it goes into this big gigantic room and it looks through all these filing cabinets until it finds the answer it thinks you want.
Wesley J. Smith: He thinks “. Is that correct terminology there? He thinks I want?
Robert J. Marks: Well, maybe “think” isn’t the right word, but I’ll say that Alexa is pretty much wrong.
Wesley J. Smith: Yes, but he is programmed to give the answer that his past programming, his past experience seems to indicate is correct. Is that a good way to say it?
Robert J. Marks: Yes yes.
What makes AI so powerful?
Robert J. Marks: That’s number one, algorithms. And we should define an algorithm since we are going to use it.
Wesley J. Smith: It’s true. That’s my next question.
Robert J. Marks: OK. An algorithm is a step-by-step procedure for doing something. If Google Maps, when they tell you how to get from point A to point B, gives you an algorithm. You go down I-35 for two miles, take exit 32A, turn right at the light, et cetera, et cetera. So it’s a step by step procedure to do something.
An algorithm is nothing more than a recipe. In the book, I use the example of a German chocolate cake. You have the starter, which is all the ingredients for the cake, but then you have the algorithm, the step-by-step procedure you need to follow to make the cake. You put the mixture in and you stir the milk and do all of that. So it’s an algorithm.
Now it turns out the only thing computers can do is algorithmic. If something is not algorithmic, it is not computable. And if it’s not calculable, it’s something computers can’t do. And what is interesting is that this is true not only for today’s computers, but also for yesterday’s computers and computers of the future. No matter how fast, no matter how amazing they are, they still won’t be able to do uncalculable things.
It was shown in the 1930s by Alan Turing that there were certain problems which were not calculable. Most undergraduate computer scientists are introduced to it by what is called a halting problem.
Without going into details, Turing showed mathematically that this was not calculable.
There have since been a number of different things that have turned out to be non-computable, meaning it can’t be done by a computer. Now, if that’s the case, we have to ask ourselves, are there things humans do that aren’t calculable? And those I would claim include sensitivity, awareness, understanding and creativity.
Dr. Marks’ book is Uncomputable You: What You Do That Artificial Intelligence Will Never Do (Discovery Institute Press, 2022). An extract is available here (Chapter 2).
Download the podcast transcript
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