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Is it a person or is it not?

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#101 maugi88

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Posted 27 August 2014 - 06:26 PM

Maugi88...I reread your post.  Thank you.

 

There was another thread some months back here where I asked for a discussion of whether or not any being (alien or human) which was conscious/self-aware/had intellect/was a person/ etc. was also human.  I belief if it is has consciousness, self-awareness, will, intellect, spiritual yearnings, it is a person; and though it might not fit in the species of homo sapiens, may well still deserve the label, human.

 

Otto

OK, I don't see how you can have that view but, we will just have to agree to disagree to that point. That's fine. Thanks for letting me know you saw it, I was not sure.



#102 GregLee1

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Posted 27 August 2014 - 09:11 PM


 If I think back a few million years ago to when human like beings became conscious/self-aware/etc.; i.e. a specific combination of the three billion or so nucleotides...it seems to me that the advanced software in computers has far surpassed that level of complexity and ...

Oh, no, software has not come close to doing tasks of the sort people find very easy.  Or spiders, for that matter.  I think you are grossly exaggerating the capacities of modern computers.  Computers can't talk, of course, but they can't even move about like us.  Those movies with computer generated humanoid monsters?  -- you probably know that the movements are done by human actors, and the computer just overlays the monster forms on top of the light patterns made by little lights attached to people.  Before they invented that technique, movie monsters were much less convincing.

 

The evolution of computer chess is instructive.  The earlier idea was to get computers to play chess the way humans do, by planning and strategizing.  Didn't work at all, because (have you guessed?) computers can't think.  The human grandmasters killed the computers, every time.  But then teams of programmers figured out totally non-human ways of calculating the moves, which, with better and faster computers, have finally got to the stage where the computers can win.  But the technique doesn't extend to normal human activities --- it only works for chess.

 

However, I am not arguing that when computers get better and sofware gets more sophisticated, that will lead to conscious and self-aware machines.  I don't think that will work, either (but not for the same reasons as Penrose or you and Chardin).



#103 llanitedave

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Posted 27 August 2014 - 10:43 PM

You (Dave) asked of me, "But, by your definition, is the chimpanzee a person?  Is the bonobo?  Is the dolphin?  How do they meet or fail to meet the criteria you posted?"

 

 

What follows is a descriptive response; not a prescriptive response to your very good question.  [For readers not familiar with strictly philosophical discourse; a descriptive statement says what I think and how I came to think the way I do; a prescriptive statement is a statement which gives reasons suggesting why others should believe the same.]

 

 

The anthropologists, psychologists, phenomenologists who were my instructors within graduate school did not think animals such as dolphins and chimpanzees were persons.  Further, they did not think these were persons by those definitions they taught me which I gave earlier.  Some of these instructors were quite familiar with animal studies of the time (e.g. 50 years) ago and maintained the behaviors non-human animals manifested could be well explained without crediting the animals with personhood.

 

Because of my profound respect for these individuals and because of sharing a common philosophy (e.g. moderate realism/phenomenological/dialogical) and a common spirituality (Christian theism), I have adopted their attitudes about the lack of personhood among non-human animals.

 

I have had no contact with chimpanzees or dolphins or animals similar to these.  So experientially, I have no competency in this area from which to respond to the questions you ask.

 

I am not a trained anthropologist, psychologist, nor trained in the fields which study such non-human animals.  Based on that limitation, I must also claim no personal competency from which to give a prescriptive response to your questions.

 

I occasionally read, these days, articles in newspapers or amateur based forums such as CN, which claim evidence of consciousness/self-awareness/etc. in non-human animals.

 

From what little I understand from those articles, the evidence provided is not convincing to me; i.e. it seems alternative explanations could be offered which could explain the animal behaviors observed without taking recourse to the philosophical position that the non-human animals observed are persons; i.e. have consciousness/self-awareness/etc.

 

 

A start....

 

Otto

Thanks, Otto.  First, let me say I almost completely agree with GregLee's response to your post earlier concerning the complexity attained by modern computer hardware and software.  He's correct that you are giving the technology way too much of a level of advancement.  Computers still only use binary logic, although expanded into huge numbers of processing units.  Organic brains use massively parrallel logic, with each brain cell not only making multiple connections with other cells, but experiencing a wide gradient of different signal/response behaviors within each cell.  So a computer with 5 billion transistors (a top-level server or mainframe) and a brain with 5 billion neurons (about chimpanzee or dolphin-scale) are totally different, both in architecture and complexity.  The computer simply can't begin to approach it.  And that doesn't even address the software side of the problem.

 

I disagree only with Greg's final sentence, for reasons best discussed in other posts.

 

Second, I'll say that your reasoning is fair and generally reasonable, although I can't say I completely agree with it.  What it gets to, and what the basis of my follow-up question was an attempt to eventually establish, is the simple idea of what you are really trying to accomplish in this thread.

 

When you originally asked if machines can be persons, the question could be approached in two ways.  First, we could be exploring the idea of whether machines could be persons according to YOUR definition of person, or second, you could be asking each person in this discussion what their personal definition of person consists of.

 

It seems the latter response is the one you're mostly getting, but in this case, the machine idea is just an implementation example, and is only one of several consequences of an individual's personal definition.

 

Reading your response above, though, in combination with some of your other statements, I wonder why you would even bother to ask, because it seems that you have structured your own personal definition of the concept in such a way as to guarantee that only humans could qualify.  It seems the equivalent, in some ways, of redefining the definition of "planet" specifically to exclude Pluto.



#104 GregLee1

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Posted 28 August 2014 - 01:46 AM

The question of whether something is a person is like the question of whether it is a citizen.  You could study its behavior or dissect it, until you knew its structure in great detail, yet never discover whether it was a citizen.  It's obvious why.  The status of being a citizen is not something emerges from the intrinsic nature of a thing, but is rather conferred upon certain favored individuals by others.

 

Will computers or aliens ever be human or conscious or self-aware?  They will be if we come to so regard them.  These are statuses which we may bestow on them or not.  To know the answer, we'd have to know more about our own cultural future.  It will be up to us.



#105 Otto Piechowski

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Posted 28 August 2014 - 08:21 AM

Greg, Dave, Maugi88, all...you guys are wonderful.  You expend so much effort to understand what another writes, and you respond with such courtesy!

 

I very much appreciate all three of you explaining to me how the complexity of the brain is of a different type and superior to the complexity found in computing.  That is an important piece for me to now reassess everything.

 

Greg, you wrote "programmers figured out totally non-human ways of calculating the moves".  That comment gets to the heart of my question about whether or not it is a fruitful way for people seeking AI, singularity, whatever-its-called.  You words seem to indicate that, at least as regards chess, the most fruitful path has been to do something which bears no relationship to, and has no interest in determing, how the human brain goes about doing things.  I simply wonder if the same chess-like path will be used to attempt to get machines to be indistinguishable in their communications from human communications and second, be used in the attempt to reach singularity/AI.  

 

If the response to this last question is "yes", then the truly interesting question, posed by Burke, Hogben, Arendt in three different eras, is if such an accomplishment occurs, does this accomplishment actually indicate a machine-intelligence accomplishment or a reduction of human beings to machine like tastes, interests, sensitivities?  So, Dave, your sense is correct.  If this forum were free to go into political, philosophical, theological issues, there is a great deal of more and other things I would like to discuss and get feedback concerning the political, social, and moral ramifications of personhood.  I find those the most interesting questions.  It is this Burke/Hogben/Arendt assertion I find very interesting.

 

But, permit me, all of you to ask a question about Greg's (your) last post.  I refer to "The question of whether something is a person is like the question of whether it is a citizen.  You could study its behavior or dissect it, until you knew its structure in great detail, yet never discover whether it was a citizen.  It's obvious why.  The status of being a citizen is not something emerges from the intrinsic nature of a thing, but is rather conferred upon certain favored individuals by others. <P> Will computers or aliens ever be human or conscious or self-aware?  They will be if we come to so regard them.  These are statuses which we may bestow on them or not.  To know the answer, we'd have to know more about our own cultural future.  It will be up to us."

 

When I read that, I swear what I am understanding is that you are saying that "person" and "personhood" are not actual things like "this computer in front of me" and "the apples I pare" and "the words I am now typing".  What I understand you to be saying is that the designation of "person" is a social convention.  I understand you to be taking the tact of philosophical nominalism, that the word "person" is simply a word which corresponds to no actual thing other than what convention decides.  

 

So, simply, Greg....am I understanding you correctly?

 

Otto



#106 llanitedave

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Posted 28 August 2014 - 10:03 AM

I guess we can expand this by asking whether a corporation is a person?

#107 llanitedave

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Posted 28 August 2014 - 10:08 AM

What I understand you to be saying is that the designation of "person" is a social convention.


That's been the case all through history. Every culture has had a unique, and usually self-serving, definition of "person" which typically disqualified from consideration members of rival tribes or slaves, or other races, or in some cases, women.

Yet some of these cultures allow the designation to apply to particular rocks or trees or celestial bodies.

#108 GregLee1

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Posted 28 August 2014 - 10:15 AM

(1)

 I simply wonder if the same chess-like path will be used to attempt to get machines to be indistinguishable in their communications from human communications and second, be used in the attempt to reach singularity/AI.  

(2)

If the response to this last question is "yes", then the truly interesting question, posed by Burke, Hogben, Arendt in three different eras, is if such an accomplishment occurs, does this accomplishment actually indicate a machine-intelligence accomplishment or a reduction of human beings to machine like tastes, interests, sensitivities?

(3)

So, simply, Greg....am I understanding you correctly?

 

 

(1) It's possible that when computers finally learn to speak and understand our languages that they will be going about it in a very different way.  But only possible.  Chess and human language might be incommensurable problems.  For one thing, there are many more words than there are chess moves.

 

(2)  No.  I see no relationship between the questions.

 

(3) Yes, that is exactly what I was trying to say.



#109 moynihan

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Posted 28 August 2014 - 11:56 AM

 "If I think back a few million years ago to when human like beings became conscious/self-aware/etc. ..it seems to me that the advanced software in computers has far surpassed that level of complexity and still, ... "

 

Neither of these should be assumed. The point when Homo Sapiens, or other now extinct hominids became self aware may be much later, it is unclear. There is  good  Palaeoarchaeology evidence for humans starting about 100,000 years ago. But for humans and other hominids prior to that, it is inference based on cranial sizes, apparent group sizes, comparison to living primates, etc.

 

Also, We may within the last 2 years reached a point where can estimate and model what would be needed to create a computer system that could match our brain's computational and storage capabilities. Folks working with the NEST Software Framework were able last year to model and run a "brain" with 1/10 our connections and "neurons", for one second of activity. That "one second" was our one second. The 89,000 connected high end processors took 40 minutes to do our 1 second. 


Edited by moynihan, 28 August 2014 - 11:56 AM.


#110 GregLee1

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Posted 28 August 2014 - 12:12 PM

 The point when Homo Sapiens, or other now extinct hominids became self aware may be much later, it is unclear. There is  good  Palaeoarchaeology evidence for humans starting about 100,000 years ago.

 

Julian Jaynes in an influential book put the origin of human consciousness around 3000 years ago.  Interesting idea.  Our earliest language records go back to a time before humans achieved consciousness.  http://en.wikipedia....sm_(psychology)



#111 GJJim

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Posted 28 August 2014 - 01:56 PM

 

 The point when Homo Sapiens, or other now extinct hominids became self aware may be much later, it is unclear. There is  good  Palaeoarchaeology evidence for humans starting about 100,000 years ago.

 

Julian Jaynes in an influential book put the origin of human consciousness around 3000 years ago.  Interesting idea.  Our earliest language records go back to a time before humans achieved consciousness.  http://en.wikipedia....sm_(psychology)

 

 

I read that book in the early '90s and the theory he presents is fascinating. Jaynes' writing style is so lucid and compelling. It's a shame he died before doing any additional research in this area.



#112 Otto Piechowski

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Posted 28 August 2014 - 03:04 PM

Thank you all.  I think I've gotten a pretty good idea of what individuals think, and what the general trends of thought are, regarding the opening post question.

 

Otto



#113 moynihan

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Posted 29 August 2014 - 12:10 PM

 

 The point when Homo Sapiens, or other now extinct hominids became self aware may be much later, it is unclear. There is  good  Palaeoarchaeology evidence for humans starting about 100,000 years ago.

 

Julian Jaynes in an influential book put the origin of human consciousness around 3000 years ago.  Interesting idea.  Our earliest language records go back to a time before humans achieved consciousness.  http://en.wikipedia....sm_(psychology)

 

I remember that book, read it i think.








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