Documenting the Coming Singularity

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A call to keep the metaphysics out of technology hype

NYT - 8.9.10 by Jaron Lanier

Ji Lee

Berkeley, Calif.

THE news of the day often includes an item about some development in artificial intelligence: a machine that smiles, a program that can predict human tastes in mates or music, a robot that teaches foreign languages to children. This constant stream of stories suggests that machines are becoming smart and autonomous, a new form of life, and that we should think of them as fellow creatures instead of as tools. But such conclusions aren’t just changing how we think about computers — they are reshaping the basic assumptions of our lives in misguided and ultimately damaging ways.

I myself have worked on projects like machine vision algorithms that can detect human facial expressions in order to animate avatars or recognize individuals. Some would say these too are examples of A.I., but I would say it is research on a specific software problem that shouldn’t be confused with the deeper issues of intelligence or the nature of personhood. Equally important, my philosophical position has not prevented me from making progress in my work. (This is not an insignificant distinction: someone who refused to believe in, say, general relativity would not be able to make a GPS navigation system.)

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