Re: Granny Objections to Computers' Having Minds

From: HARNAD Stevan (
Date: Mon Jun 03 1996 - 20:44:37 BST

> Date: Thu, 23 May 1996 12:33:51 +0100 (BST)
> From: "Parker, Bronwyn" <>
> Granny objections to computation are basically beliefs that computers
> do not have minds but for no good reasons, simply because it seems to
> go against basic human intuition. It seems impossible to the avarage
> granny that computers could have minds yet it is possible that they do.
> Granny objactions are all arbitory, thay have no actual evidence to
> support them and are based upon unexamined, inate bias. However, I
> think that it would be true to say that the majority of people would
> agree with granny; Mainly because of human instinct that computers are
> machines and machines do not have minds.

One little problem: What is/isn't a machine (and why)?

[Always use a spell-checker!]

> Granny Objections include;
> -Computers have a program and can only operate within that program,
> they can only do what they are programmed to do, consequently they
> cannot have a mind since they have no choice or free will, they just
> have a program.
> -Computers have no history or experiences, they just have a pseudo past
> whereas, we, as humans have a history and a past life.
> -Computers cannot be creative.
> -Computers cannot and don't have emotions.
> -We are not machines, we are not 'any system that operates within the
> causal laws of physics' . We are different and can do so much more than
> mere machines.
> All of these objections can be argued against; Computers are flexible
> and adapt to inputs and changes in code, they can be unpredictable and
> do new things due to chance effects from outside the system, due to
> pseudo random effectsproduced by the code itself and effects of the
> program which the programmer did not expect.

Effects, in fact, that NO ONE could predict, not because they are not
produced by the programme, but because they are too complex to predict.
(We, by the way, are much easier predict than that, for the most part.)

> It can be argued that it
> is irrelevent whether or not computers have a history since all that ir
> applicable is the here and now.

To pass the Turing Test, they have to be able to do what we can do for a
lifetime; the test is a proactive one: its capacities must be identical
to ours. We can't "read" one another's past any more than we can read
one another's minds. But we can certainly tell whether something fishy
is going on now. (A machine that could not remember, or be influenced
by, anything that had happened longer than 15 seconds ago would fail the
Turing Test (although there are real people with almost exactly that
deficit: that's ok; the Turing Test is a test of positive capacity;
deficits can wait till we understand how we do the normal stuff in the
first place.)

> It also cannot be assumed to be true
> that computers do not have emotions, we do not know. Are we any
> different to computers really since surely we also operate within the
> causal laws of physics only in a different perimeter, we could also be
> said to be predictable, as computers are predictable.

Bear in mind, though, that computers are not the ONLY kind of artificial
device that operates within the causal laws of physics: Even computers
can't have minds, other kinds of artiicial devices might.

> However, I would still agree with granny in saying thatcomputers do not
> have minds.

And do you have any evidence or reasons to support that?

> Personally I find the whole idea of artificial intelligence
> quite frightening, I want to believe that we, the human race, is unique
> in it's cognitive powers and artificial intelligence is like playing
> God.

If you want to believe something, does that always make it true.

Good reply, though. To push it into the A range, you'd have to connect
with bigger themes, like the Chinese Room, or Symbol Grounding, the
Turing Test, or the Mind/Body Problem.

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