Of circuits and sentience.

Continuing in the Terminators theme, I was pleasantly surprised by a long, rambling conversation the Beast’s Ian Murphy had with a bunch of techno-prophets on… drumroll please… machine intelligence.

The best point was, I feel, made by Noam Chomsky. Basically, his argument was that a machine intelligence could never be seen as human-sentient/sapient because the term itself in exclusive. Thus, a fully self-aware and intelligent machine could fail the Turing test simply because it won’t be human.

Taking this argument into the realm of structural explanations, there are good reasons to think that any other form of processing other than neurons formed into a mammalian-type brain will be unable to pass as human even if the resulting intelligence were smart enough to be human-equivalent on some sort of imaginary smarts scale. After all, for something to think like a person, it would have to process the world in the same way as a person. A putative machine intelligence wouldn’t even begin to think in the same way, because transistors process information differently than neurons at a fundamental level.

More than this, it would be wasteful (in terms of optimising intelligence) to even try to shoehorn a non-human mind into human-mimicry. You would be forcing a foreign processing system to play against its own strengths. In terms of neurons vs. transistors, a human-mimicking computer would have to sacrifice its speed of operation and perfect information storage to mimic the massively parallel, analogue nature of the brain.

None of this is particularly surprising, however, when you stop to consider that there isn’t even a solid definition for human intelligence. That members of the same species, with the same basic neuronal hardware, can fail to judge each other as rational actors speaks volumes about our collective ability to even recognise a potentially self-aware creature. Worse than that, though, is that people routinely fail even the most basic Turing tests (this can be seen in any internet chat room) despite being indisputably human.

The end result is that we can expect any other intelligence we find or create to be truly alien, with only the most basic ability to communicate with us on any level. The horror of it is that, were we to contact intelligent life (out there or in here), we would still be all alone.

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