We Are The Robots

By Michael Fiorito, MDS

When I was in college in the 80s, I took a class called The Philosophy of Mind. We read books like “The Mind’s I” and “Persons and Reasons” which featured writing on artificial intelligence, robots and consciousness. At that time, it was hotly debated whether an intelligent robot could also become conscious. Some claimed that artificial intelligence would never pierce the veil of consciousness or subjectivity. Some felt that the very idea of subjectivity is just humans beating their chest. Non-philosophers could care less about the argument altogether.

A philosopher might say I’m oversimplifying things by suggesting that the field has two -maybe three - camps. One camp believes that consciousness, or subjectivity, is a user illusion that can be reduced to its component parts. Another camp suggests that subjectivity is something that emerges from a physical state but transcends its component parts. A third camp suggests that subjectivity can only be considered in the context of its interaction with the environment. For example, two identical beings occupying two different lives would have two different subjectivities.

Artificial intelligence has acquired a whole new meaning in cloud based computing. Using the scalability power of the cloud, data scientists can rapidly compute enormous amounts of data to provide analytic insights. These insights are ascertained by complex drawing “if then” connections between large data sets. Organizations are investing heavily in the cloud today to monetize these kinds of analytics. By assembling a world-class team of researchers and tools, Microsoft is remaking itself around the promise of artificial intelligence.

But the question remains. Will artificial intelligence surpass human intelligence? Is subjectivity a requirement for claiming artificial intelligence? Despite the great strides in technology, I think these questions will remain open to interpretation.