Wednesday, 29 January 2020

The mind is nothing but a machine...

Déjà vu  - (many times)

'The mind is nothing but a machine because very soon (if not next year then certainly within five years) computers will be able to think and do everything humans can do - and probably do it better'

This popular belief, known as computationalism or strong AI, goes back at least 70 years, and seems to gain strength and then become discredited in approximately ten year cycles.    The belief-cycle is fed by hype about Artificial Intelligence in the popular press, and when the hype fails to deliver, the computationalist meme goes dormant and has to wait for a new generation of gullible journalists before it can resume its growth. 

In fact computationalism is just the latest version of a school of thought known as 'philosophical mechanism', which predates the first computers by several centuries. The earliest appearance of philosophical mechanism goes back to 1651  (for 'electronics' substitute 'clockwork'). 

After several years of hype in the late 2010's ('AI summer')  the recent failures of AI to deliver human-like thought capabilities are again leading to increased skepticism and the onset of an AI winter.

Perhaps this may be an opportunity for Buddhists to explain to a wider public why the mind is far more than a machine, and is not reducible to material bits and pieces such as transistors or cogwheels, or indeed any other physical system.