The ‘Artificial’ Human?

Machine ManIs man a machine, albeit a highly complex one? If the answer is, well, ‘yes’, then the possibility of an ‘artificial intelligence’ overpowering ‘human intelligence’ in every aspect cannot be denied. And if the answer is ‘no’, then such a possibility is exceedingly remote, if not outright impossible. Let us consider the two answers:‘Yes’: man is a “mere” machineWell, in that case, man is a thinking machine – an embodiment of ‘natural intelligence’. Now, how ‘natural’ this intelligence is, is a question that is questionable except, of course, if you consider this intelligence to be ‘natural’ inasmuch as it is not ‘artificial’ (i.e. man-made). Or maybe, you can consider man a dynamic machine in that it can grow, learn from experiences – how to walk, how to talk, how to write, and how to read, can respond to new situations and can improvise. The human body might as well be considered a very ordered machine, if you consider the rhythm of our heart beats, the working of our eyes, ears and nose – almost all these organs of sensory perception have been or can be modeled by a machine. ‘The Terminator’ (1984) was based on the idea of an intelligent machine. If man is a “mere” machine, a machine might as well (if not necessarily) be a “mere” human. No’: man is not a machineA machine is defined by certain quantifiable parameters – an automobile is characterized by its mileage, its horsepower et al. Though, of course, the human body can be defined by quantifiable parameters (such as the number of eyes, ears, nose, and limbs you have), the human mind (which, of course, is more than just the physical brain) cannot be quantified objectively. In ‘The Rational Mind’ (, I’d underlined the difficulty in quantifying rationality. And, well, rationality isn’t the only trait humans possess. A human can imagine, can think, is intuitive, and can innovate. To model these properties in a machine is no child’s play. In ‘The myth of the intelligent machine’ Fred Hutchison argues against the concept of an intelligent machine citing “feelings of insecurity from our dependence upon machines” as one of the “causes of the popular nightmare” of machines turning intelligent. Now for the concept of intelligence: What is intelligence? To quote from Jack Copeland’s, “What is Artificial Intelligence?,” the following exemplifies the distinction between the intelligent and the unintelligent:“Quite simple human behaviour can be intelligent yet quite complex behaviour performed by insects is unintelligent. What is the difference? Consider the behaviour of the digger wasp, Sphex ichneumoneus. When the female wasp brings food to her burrow, she deposits it on the threshold, goes inside the burrow to check for intruders, and then if the coast is clear carries in the food. The unintelligent nature of the wasp’s behaviour is revealed if the watching experimenter moves the food a few inches while the wasp is inside the burrow checking. On emerging, the wasp repeats the whole procedure: she carries the food to the threshold once again, goes in to look around, and emerges. She can be made to repeat this cycle of behaviour upwards of forty times in succession. Intelligence–conspicuously absent in the case of Sphex–is the ability to adapt one’s behaviour to fit new circumstances.” As is clearly evident from the example, the digger wasp is “programmed” to perform a certain task in a certain definite way and can be made to repeat the activity upto forty times in succession. It fails to adapt effectively to slight changes in the situation. The point is: an intelligent machine should be able to respond to such changes and modify its behaviour accordingly without there being any prior programming to tackle a specific anticipated problem.That a machine can acquire free will and a consciousness of its own is a proposition that is yet to be confirmed, and if and when we are able to create such machines, the consequences that follow would be interesting, indeed “exciting”!Ravi Kunjwal

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