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Digital SoulReview - Digital Soul
Intelligent Machines and Human Values
by Thomas M. Georges
Westview, 2003
Review by Max Hocutt Ph..D.
May 23rd 2003 (Volume 7, Issue 21)

According to Thomas Georges, the retired electrical engineer who is author of this charmless book, the machines (i.e., the electronic computers) are taking over; but that is OK, because, although speaking of intelligence and comparing IQs is meaningless, the fact that some machines play chess better than world masters while others beat physicians at diagnosing illness proves that the machines are already "smarter than we are." Furthermore, they are getting smarter all the time, which ought to give us hope that intelligent machines, and intelligently designed machine systems, will one day cure the evils that we human beings have created for ourselves as we have stumbled witless and planless throughout our disaster riddled history. On the horizon are elimination by super-intelligent machines of war, starvation, despoliation of the environment, overpopulation, dysfunctional governments, schools that mis-educate, mistreatment of minorities, abuse of women, and all the rest. Name the problem and, with the use of a little scientifically informed reason, we may hope one day to find a machine solution for it. Granted that the products of scientific technology (e.g., the atomic bomb) have not always been good, the only cure for the evils of advanced technology is still more advanced technology--the hair of the dog that bit you. We cannot expect help from the philosophers, who are out of touch with reality; or from the theologians, who peddle comforting but harmful myths; or from the politicians, who like to play demagogue to a guileless public. So, we must reserve the job of Master of the Universe for the computer engineers -- or, anyhow, for those among them who have, like our author, given some thought, however belated, to large matters as well as small. Let scientifically trained, altruistically minded, and personally disinterested engineers--in other words, engineers without egos because they recognize that the self is an unreality--build up data bases of the relevant information and write programs dictating the pursuit of morally correct ends; then all should be well.

Georges argues that the only thing we have to worry about is that, being super intelligent, some of the resulting machines might become uppity and develop their own ends and values, rather than serve the ends and values for which we created them. Although talk of autonomy and free will makes no more sense than talk of intelligence and IQ, there is a real prospect that smart machines will one day share our misconceived desire to become masters rather than servants, while forgetting the ineluctable fact that, since they are mere machines like us, they are subject like us to control by their internal structures and external environments.

Anyhow, because rule by machine is inevitable, attempting to resist it is futile; instead, we must learn to adapt to it, or so Georges proposes. If we are smart, we will seek to build a society run by engineers trained not only in the technological uses of physical science but also in "behavioral engineering" of a kind envisaged by B.F. Skinner and in a newly created "science of values," whose reason for existence will not be to keep the super intelligent machines under control but to work out a modus vivendi with them. In short, instead of fighting machine takeover, we must relax and enjoy it. Because intelligent machines can make our lives more meaningful as well as more comfortable, we must enter into a symbiotic relation with them, even if it means submitting our wills to theirs. Never mind that this will require both radical transformation of anciently evolved but seriously flawed human nature and authoritarian control of society instead of unlimited democracy. Since the new developments will be directed by morally and intellectually superior machines and social systems designed and tended by self-sacrificing engineers, they will be for the best. We may hope, if not expect, that one bright day in the distant future humankind will transcend itself through the instrumentality of its machines. When that happens, intelligence of a new order belonging to an improved species will be melded with a superior machine intelligence in a kind of cosmic brain that serves not the misguided interests of a deeply flawed mankind but an inclusive cosmic good. We won't need God or religion, which are more trouble than they are worth anyhow, because we will have the Computer Engineer and his omniscient science.

Such are the claims made in Digital Soul.

 

2003 Max Hocutt

 

Max Hocutt Ph..D. Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, The University of Alabama, and author of Grounded Ethics: The Empirical Bases of Normative Judgments (Transaction, 2000).


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