Computers are becoming more powerful at an accelerating rate, but will they
ever become conscious?
In Are We Spiritual Machines? critics of strong artificial intelligence (the view that computers will go fully conscious) square off with one of A.I.s leading proponents, Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil says that nonbiological intelligence will soon become indistinguishable from conscious entities such as humans. He explains how we will "reverse engineer" our software (our minds) and "upgrade" our hardware (our bodies) to indefinitely extend human life -- before the dawn of the 22nd century.
Kurzweil argues that accelerating growth of computer power will result in machine intelligence exceeding human intelligence early in this century. Nanobots will scan and enable the reverse engineering of our brains, provide 3D immersive virtual realities, and free the human mind from its severe physical limitations as the next step in evolution. Ultimately, humankind will "merge with its computational technology."
And what do Kurzweils critics say?
-Philosopher John Searle challenges Kurzweil's position with his famous "Chinese Room" argument.
-Biologist Michael Denton disagrees with the idea that machines are capable of having the vital characteristics of organisms and argues that Kurzweils materialism does not do justice to humans or intelligent agents.
-Philosopher and mathematician William Dembski argues that Kurzweils vision is an "impoverished view of spirituality because intelligence cannot be reduced to any sort of mechanism.
-Zoologist Thomas Ray questions the ability to create intelligent machines by copying human brains into computers.
-Kurzweil, in turn, offers counter-arguments to each of these positions.
"Although Artificial Intelligence may seem like an esoteric topic with little relevance to anything else, in fact, many of the most important questions we face from technology to theology converge on this single subject," say leading futurist George Gilder and Discovery Institute Senior Fellow Jay Wesley Richards in the introduction.
Kurzweils predictions have sparked tremendous controversy, most notably Bill Joys (of Sun Microsystems) well known article in Wired Magazine (April 2000). Joy wrote that Kurzweils predictions of the future are a robotic dystopia.
Are We Spiritual Machines was born out of the controversial closing panel session titled "Spiritual Machines" at the Gilder-Forbes Telecosm '98 conference in Lake Tahoe in September 1998.
[ARN Editor's Note: ISCID is hosting an online discussion of this book with several of the book's contributors. http://www.iscid.org/arewespiritualmachines.php]
File Date: 06.17.02