Robots and Zombies

The two terms go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Funnily, they also get to the heart of my interest in robots. A philosophical zombie is the idea that were we able to fabricate an entity that was materially identical to a person that it would nonetheless not be a person because it would lack a spiritual essence, which people have. Believers in Strong AI hold that artificial entities should be able to reproduce any human ability and even outperform us. Furthermore, they hold that it is not even necessary for the entity to be materially identical, rather it just needs to have sufficient mechanisms to carry out the process. Conveniently, computers seem to have these mechanisms and as such we should be able to manufacture a human-equivalent. I’m not entirely sure it’s possible (it’s certainly frickin’ difficult). For sure, machines have accurately replicated some abilities, and when they do, they replace us at those tasks (eg. in the workforce). Yet an accurate description of our motivations as living things continues to elude us. (I think Capitalism itself as it is expressed through the stock market would probably combust if we could figure out these motivations.) I imagine it is possible in theory, but what appears to be happening in practice is rather an inter-meshing of people with machines through networks. They augment our capacities, and fill in gaps, while we continue to provide them with direction. If this trend continues then I’d expect that eventually all of our important capacities will be reproduced by machines, and that organisms will simply provide motivations. But not people necessarily. Maybe people at first, but it would eventually be more efficient to use simple cellular organisms, a kind-of motivational battery. Who knows, a few researchers could simply crack artificial motivation one day; figure out the algorithm and boom there we go, self-deterministic, autonomous, even creative machines. I also recognize that it’s extremely difficult to make predictions about the future of our lifestyles that hold true more than a few months away, because we inhabit a complex, seemingly chaotic system. Still, there are ways we can investigate these ideas in the present, based on current technology. In my work I’m essentially trying to reproduce some sentience-like abilities in a machine and then position the artificial entity next to a human counterpart and watch what unfolds.

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