Are the robots we create alive?

Fragment of a discussion from User talk:Sheldor
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Well just because it was a joke doesn't mean I don't still want an answer. :)

AW02:45, 28 February 2013

A tree isn't human because there are enough significant physical differences to justify two different names/taxonomic categories. That should have been obvious to you. I don't think we mean exactly the same things when we say "human."

I think that when you say "human," you mean more than just the species Homo Sapiens, you also include the concepts of mind and soul. I think you believe that humans are special, or fundamentally different from other animals.

I don't believe Homo Sapiens are really that special when compared to other animals. We are not the only creatures that have developed tools or language. We are not the only creatures to feel emotions or pain, or to be "aware" of our surroundings. Insect societies are fundamentally not too far different from ours. Dogs and pigs are more intelligent than human infants. Butterflies see the world in colors we can't even imagine.

Our greatest claim to being superior to other animals is probably our accomplishments in the STEM fields. But, in that we are quickly being overtaken by machines.

Sheldor06:10, 1 March 2013

To me, it seems intuitively clear (read: I'm not claiming I can provide a logical proof) that humans are on the other side of an important threshold of intelligence as compared to most or all other animals on earth. And including machines in the discussion seems premature. For all we know, the ability to attain consciousness is related to the materials that form our brains and anything silicon-based is incapable of consciousness.

But even so, I agree we aren't special in any absolute sense. I don't see why chimps or dolphins couldn't evolve to cross that intelligence threshold, if it exists. And despite our remarkable ability to understand abstract concepts, I take it as a given that there are limits to our ability to understand the universe, much as a cat can never understand how a DVD player works the way that we can.

Voidious19:55, 1 March 2013

I thought dolphins and mice already had become intelligent. :)

I didn't say that machines were conscious, only that they are very quickly becoming much better at using mathematics and may soon be better than humans at STEM related tasks.

Sheldor21:38, 1 March 2013

I meant crossing the intelligence threshold that humans have crossed, not just having any degree of intelligence. I'm not sure how to clearly define it. But I think mice would have trouble understanding this discussion. :-) Understanding theory of mind is one important threshold. I think humans have crossed another important threshold (or more than one) in terms of understanding abstract concepts, even compared to chimps and dolphins.

Also I think consciousness is very relevant to claiming machines are "using mathematics". Unless the machine itself becomes conscious, we are using machines to do mathematics. The machine is just a physical structure and reaction, like a crystal lattice. You wouldn't claim a crystal lattice is intelligent or using math, just because we can use math to describe interesting aspects of its structure, would you?

Voidious21:49, 1 March 2013

I don't think you understood the joke. It was a vague reference to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Your point about machines not being aware that they are using math reminds me of the Chinese room. Do you agree with it?

Sheldor23:05, 1 March 2013

I'll get back to you regarding the Chinese room once I have done more research on it, but I want to return to the discussion of classification of trees and humans again. You can distinguish between trees and humans based on their appearance. Do all trees share something that makes them trees?(Aristotelian form.) Do you have an understanding of what a tree is?

When I say human I mean a rational, sentient, living, material, substance. I'm not a materialist (as I said before, I follow the Scholastic school of thought), but you can't successfully argue against my stance by saying that you have a different idea (which is immaterial) of what a human is. I'm not asking what you think I think a human is, I'm asking what you think a human is.

"I don't believe Homo Sapiens are really that special when compared to other animals. We are not the only creatures that have developed tools or language. We are not the only creatures to feel emotions or pain, or to be "aware" of our surroundings. Insect societies are funduamentally not too far different from ours. Dogs and pigs are more intelligent than human infants. Butterflies see the world in colors we can't even imagine. "

You're completely missing the point. I'm saying that we aren't distinguished from other animals based on these things, so what do you use to distinguish us?

As regards STEM, I'm not an artistic person and I'm not saying art is more IMPORTANT than other things, but it seems to be a difference between humans and other animals. Can you explain why we have art museums and no other animal does?

AW16:42, 5 March 2013

We are distinguished by biological differences.

Art is a refined extension of beauty. In addition to merely noticing beauty, we create it. Beauty is simply an evolutionary adaptation that makes us seek symmetry and harmony. Other animals can perceive beauty, but only humans have the resources to make art and build museums around it.

Sheldor23:09, 7 March 2013

Our brains are closely related to consciousness, but they are not necessarily the same thing. And knowing if anything silicon-based is capable of consciousness or not leads to the mind-body problem.

MN19:50, 3 March 2013

While I agree with Voidious that we don't know enough about our brains to say for sure, I personally speculate that a very powerful supercomputer running very smart software could think like us. I guess that makes me a physicalist.

Sheldor22:50, 3 March 2013

A normal computer with very smart software could think like us. A supercomputer only provides speed.

Chase07:06, 4 March 2013

Really? The human brain has over two petabytes of long-term memory.[1] Does your computer have a hard drive that size?

You seem to imply a difference between a conscious being deciding to use math and a computer receiving instructions and giving outputs. But, if consciousness is deterministic, is there really any difference between a conscious being receiving inputs (from its senses) and deciding to use math, and a machine receiving inputs (indirectly from conscious beings) and deciding to use math?

You have said that you believe humans are mostly deterministic. There are also many instances of people behaving deterministically. Among them are, as I've noted before, people who have transient global amnesia.

Sheldor16:36, 4 March 2013

If we are purely deterministic, then no, there's no difference. Math only exists in our minds, so to me, if there's no consciousness, there's no math.

Voidious19:12, 4 March 2013

I didn't say we aren't conscious. I said that our consciousness is deterministic, i.e. we give the same outputs when we receive the same inputs. We are just a "physical structure and reaction."

I'd still like to know what you think about the Chinese room thought experiment. It seems very relevant to our discussion.

Sheldor20:40, 4 March 2013

Why do you assume that we are deterministic? Don't you think it at least seems like we make choices?

AW16:28, 5 March 2013

We do make choices. I never said or even intentionally implied that we don't.

Determinism is simply the idea that everything in the universe has a causal relationship with everything else in the universe, and can only behave in one way. For example, let's say that I decide to eat a pizza for lunch instead of a salad. A determinist would say that all my past experiences, as well as the environment around me, and countless other things directly caused me to choose to eat the pizza.

Notice that from the deterministic perspective, I actually make a choice. I use all my memories to weigh both options and choose the one that benefits me the most.

Please, listen to the Radiolab clip I linked to. About five minutes in, they tell the story of a woman with transient global amnesia. It is an excellent example of human determinism.

Sheldor19:09, 5 March 2013

I think most people (including me) would define "choice" in such a way that determinism contradicts it. If there was only ever one possible outcome, no choice was made, only the illusion of one.

Voidious19:15, 5 March 2013

I believe that humans are like computers; we have inputs and outputs. When we have the same inputs, we will have the same outputs.

But, we still make a choice. The woman in the clip decided to say the same things over and over, because her inputs were roughly the same.

Sheldor20:19, 5 March 2013

Well, you're free to use the word that way, but I definitely assign a different meaning to the word, and I bet most people do too. To me, it sounds like the difference between perceiving a choice and actually making one.

Voidious20:37, 5 March 2013

Well then, how do you personally define the word "choice"?

Sheldor20:50, 5 March 2013

Deciding between two potential outcomes. If there was only one potential outcome, it wasn't a choice, only the illusion of one. Real choice definitely implies free will and non-determinism.

Voidious20:56, 5 March 2013

But, in my example there were two potential outcomes, pizza or salad.

I'll try a new example: Alice has two options, she could have $1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.00 deposited into her bank account, or she could have that much added to her debt. She weighs the two options, and decides to take the deposit because she perceives it to be in her best interest. She could have chosen the second option, but she didn't because she perceived it to not be in her best interest.

Alice's judgement is based on all her memories and past experiences, as well as her current environment, and many other small factors. In order for her choice to be non-deterministic, she would need to abandon all judgement and make her choice completely random.

So essentially, what you're saying is that in order to have freewill and have control over our fate, we need to make all our decisions completely random, without any consideration of how they effect us.

Sheldor22:29, 5 March 2013

Not at all. You say: "She could have chosen the second option." But you also say there was never any chance she could have chosen the second option, because the series of events is deterministic. Do you really not see a conflict here?

Voidious22:30, 5 March 2013

Free will would allow Alice to choose between maximizing money, choosing at random, or simply pissing off Sheldor. In the first, picking the money is the rational choice. In the second, flipping a coin is a rational choice. In the third, not picking the money is the rational choice.

Memories and past experiences help judge what is the best action for each desired outcome, but don't restrict possible outcomes to a single one.

MN01:27, 6 March 2013

Yes, she could have picked the latter option. It was a potential outcome, as was the former. But, she did not. Why didn't she? Because she used her judgement and decided to pick the former.

Her knowledge and memories were the inputs to her judgement, and her decision was the output. Technically speaking, she did not have free will as her knowledge and memories were acquired from prior events. But, to have free will, she couldn't let prior events determine her decision, so she would have to abandon her judgement.

In conclusion, you can keep your free will,

I will choose a path that's clear
I will choose rational judgement.

Sheldor01:40, 6 March 2013

There was 3 judgements up there. Alice must abandon 2 judgements, no matter the choice made.

MN03:01, 6 March 2013

I don't understand what you are saying.

Sheldor03:05, 6 March 2013

Knowledge and memories make Alice realize she has 3 (or more) choices.

MN16:30, 6 March 2013

She still only has two options: gain an immense sum of money, or spend eternity trying to pay-off that much debt.

You're saying that she has multiple possible motivators. Her motivators define her best interest. If her motivator was to have financial security, her best interest would have her take the money. If she wanted complete free will, her choice could not be determined by prior events, so she would have to either choose randomly, or have someone else choose for her. If her greatest priority in life was to piss me off, then she would perceive choosing the debt to be in her best interest.

Sheldor16:54, 6 March 2013

I'm saying she has the choice to go after the motivation or not.

MN18:35, 6 March 2013

Her motivation isn't really that relevant to the question of free will vs. determinism. I was assuming that her main motivation would be financial, but even if it wasn't, it would only change the outcome, and not the process of decision-making.

Sheldor01:10, 7 March 2013

Most people would choose the first, and again if repeated. But because there is an economic force acting against free will. Determinists find it fun, liberalists see it with horror.

It IS possible to destroy someones free will through force. Liberalists fight those situations so people can exert their free will without being opposed by externalities.

Another example, gravity. A determinist would brag no one can fly and there is no choice. A liberalist would build an airplane so people can choose to fly or not.

MN02:31, 6 March 2013

I'm a determinist, and I believe we do have choice. As I've noted before, I believe that we make choices like computers do, our perception of our current environment, as well as our memories of past events, are our inputs, and decisions are our outputs. When our perception and memory give us the same input, we will give the same decisions as output.

Free will is a self-defeating concept, for our choices to be completely non-deterministic, they would have to be truly random (Which I believe is impossible, anyway.), which gives the person in question no say in the matter at all.

Sheldor01:03, 7 March 2013

I really think you're warping the meaning of the word "choice" here. Would you say a tennis ball makes the choice to bounce off the ground?

Voidious01:32, 7 March 2013


From Wikipedia:

"Choice consists of the mental process of judging the merits of multiple options and selecting one or more of them. While a choice can be made between imagined options ("what would I do if ...?"), often a choice is made between real options and followed by the corresponding action. For example, a route for a journey is chosen based on the preference of arriving at a given destination as soon as possible. The preferred (and therefore chosen) route is then derived from information about how long each of the possible routes take. This can be done by a route planner. If the preference is more complex, such as involving the scenery of the route, cognition and feeling are more intertwined, and the choice is less easy to delegate to a computer program or assistant."

As I've said before, choice is weighing options and selecting the one that seems to be the most beneficial. Tennis balls do not do this, they are not intelligent systems, they are just objects directly following the laws of pysics. Humans and computers ultimately do follow the laws of physics, but they also exhibit the qualities of intelligence and choice.

Sheldor01:48, 7 March 2013

I would say that excerpt assumes a degree of free will. To a determinist, a tennis ball bouncing and a human's brain pulsing with electricity and then moving a mouth to form a sentence are just a series of atoms interacting in a purely deterministic way according to the laws of physics. Calling one a "choice" and the other "just objects directly following the laws of physics" seems disingenuous.

But I'll drop it if you want to choose to have your cake and eat it too. ;)

Voidious01:53, 7 March 2013

Eating cake is unhealthy. ;)

You are correct. I believe all matter in the universe behaves deterministically according to the laws of physics (even those that we have not yet discovered). Not unlike the way cells in Conway's Game of Life interact with each other deterministically.

Intelligent systems are special arrangements or patterns of matter (or Life cells). Intelligent systems behave differently than non-intelligent systems (like a tennis ball), even though they still follow the same physical laws.

Tennis balls could be used to create logic gates. With enough of them, one could create a very basic (and inefficient) computer. Though the tennis balls themselves cannot make decisions, when enough of them are arranged together, they form an intelligent system that can receive inputs and give outputs.

A man actually did create a Universal Turing Machine in Life, using cells that directly obey deterministic laws.

Sheldor02:56, 7 March 2013

That still isn't a supercomputer, that is just a storage network. But if I recall the storage capacity of the human brain is still in dispute. Some say its incredibly vast (like you did just now), others claim it is just better at storing the information. I am more in the second camp.

It isn't compression exactly. I would say it is more of useless information is discarded, and useful information is only partially stored. Say I may learn something, but if I never use it, i'll forget its meaning. Meaning my brain got rid that useless information because it was never used. Studies show we forget up to 75% of what we learn on a daily basis. Of course if it got used a lot at some point it will stay in there for future use, though the exact details will get fuzzy with disuse.

It will go from "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs." to "fox jumped over dogs" to "fox (general notion of going over) dog". That makes no sense, so fox... oh, over the dog. What can we use to go over a dog. Well we could jump, or we could hover, fly. But a fox cannot hover or fly, so it was probably jump. So we reconstruct it to be "the fox jumped over the dog." Information was lost, but the general meaning remained.

To further enforce this, I had forgot part of the original saying above. I had lost 'quick'. But then I remembered that oh, its one of those sentences that uses all the letters. I noticed it didn't have a 'q' in it. So I suddenly recalled, oh, "Quick". Well the dog isn't quick, I don't think it quickly jumped, so the fox must be the one who was quick, as most foxes are.

Chase19:38, 4 March 2013

Okay, so a normal personal computer, with extremely large memory and much more storage, running very smart software could be conscious.

But, why bother? What's so great about consciousness? Really, the only advantage brains have over computers is their ability to recognize patterns.

Sheldor20:51, 4 March 2013