Artificial Intelligence provoked some deep discussion. We bring you some of the highlights.
The Philosophical Problem
Willem and Dmitri1, this is an article I submitted to the Post but it seems more appropriate to put it here as it addresses some of the points you have raised:
The well-known physicist David Deutsch expressed the opinion2 that the failure of scientists to produce anything remotely resembling true artificial intelligence (or Artificial General Intelligence as it is usually referred to now) over the past sixty years is a result of ignoring the philosophical problems inherent in the project.
According to most dictionaries, Intelligence is the faculty of understanding that allows us to use our knowledge and skills to solve problems by manipulating our environment and ever since Descartes decided that the only route to indubitable knowledge was the radical separation of mind and matter explicit in the 'Cogito', philosophy has struggled with the problem of what we mean by knowledge and how we acquire it.
One answer to this is Communitarianism: the problem with recognising Descartes as the starting point for modern philosophy is his focussing on the autonomous individual as the repository of knowledge, whereas the immanentism of Aristotle and Hegel and the holistic views promoted by Jan Smuts, Alfred Adler and others have provided an alternative view of the individual as an instantiation of human knowledge. This approach reconnects us with the original idea of philosophy as, literally, the love of wisdom, where love is the ability to become one with another individual through empathy (generally referred to in philosophy as Hermeneutics) and wisdom is to understand the connections that make up the Big Picture (that is, the social world we inhabit).
According to this view, then, something can only be considered intelligent if it is able to recognise intelligence and awareness in others. This can be seen to be true when we think about very young children being able to stare at a stranger without embarrassment: their self-awareness has not yet developed to the point where they understand that what they are looking at is a self-aware individual. Arthur C. Clarke thought that machines would have this level of self-awareness by 2001 but his HAL9000 suffered from the very moral problems that proponents of artificial intelligence are presumably hoping to do away with.
But this still leaves us with the problem of what the human brain is doing when it exhibits intelligence. The electrochemical activity in the brain is an entirely material process so does this mean that we are already an example of artificial intelligence? If we are then any idea of Free Will would be meaningless; all our actions would be as predictable as the fall of Newton’s apple. At the moment the alternative views, ranging from quantum tubules in the brain to the idea that humans have a spirit or soul, seem to have very little evidence to support them. In which case there would seem to be no reason why a machine could not eventually develop an individual identity in the same way that humans have but, presumably, the machine being a product of human engineering would imply the human world expanding to include the sentient machine and, consequently, the machine would have to be considered a human rather than an artificial intelligence.
Ed. Note: This discussion became very fruitful. If you'd like to read the rest of it, we recommend you mosey over to the bottom of Thinking About Thinking, click on the thread marked 'Built to Last', and join in. We're sure we can lick this consciousness problem if we just get enough h2g2ers to think about it long enough.