The difference between humans and machines

Photo credit: Gerry Dincher, via Flickr (cropped).

Ask Siri, “Am I just a meat computer?”

Siri will respond, “I don’t really know.”

Siri doesn’t give a thoughtful response because, well, it can’t think. Siri can follow the instructions (algorithms) given to it by human programmers, but it can’t deal with open-ended questions or anything that forces it to think outside the box. He can escape; it can be vague; but he cannot give a meaningful answer unless human programmers give him that answer. This is not a fault of Siri. This is an absolute limitation of artificial intelligence in general.

A meaningful response

But ask AI expert Robert J. Marks, “Am I just a meat computer?” This question is about whether humans, like computers, lack free will; if the soul is only an illusion; if humans are just grinding algorithms from our conscious and subconscious minds, algorithms shaped by the neurons and hormones of the brain and, beneath them, the laws and constants of physics and chemistry. Ask Marks the question and all it entails, and he might give you a meaningful, even fascinating answer.

He does it in his new book Uncomputable you: what you do that artificial intelligence will never do. I was one of the editors of this book, and I not only learned a lot, but enjoyed it a lot – even, surprisingly, the math parts. Mark writes:

For computers – for artificial intelligence – there is no other game in town. All computer programs are algorithms; anything non-algorithmic is non-computable and beyond the reach of AI. But it’s not beyond you.

Humans can behave and react in non-algorithmic ways. You do it every day. For example, you perform a non-algorithmic task when you bite into a lemon. The lemon juice squirts onto your tongue and you wince at the sour flavor.

Now consider this: can you fully convey your experience to a man who was born without a sense of taste or smell? No you can not. The objective is not a description of the lemon-biting experience, but its duplication. Lemon chemicals and bite mechanics can be described to humans, but the true experience of lemon taste and aroma cannot be imparted to someone without the necessary senses.

If biting into a lemon can’t be explained to a human without all of his functional senses, it certainly can’t be experimentally reproduced by AI using computer software. Like man born without a sense of taste or smell, machines lack qualia – experiential sensory perceptions such as pain, taste, and smell. Qualia are a simple example of the many human attributes that elude algorithmic description.

In addition to qualia, many other non-algorithmic traits distinguish humans from machines. Emotion, creativity, mercy and understanding – true understanding, including common sense and a sense of humor – are some of the traits that are forever beyond the capacity of machines, no matter how “intelligent” these machines can be, no matter how fast they are processed. speeds, no matter how much data they can access.

AI hype and hyperbole

That’s what Marks says, and he has a good case, detailing why some human attributes just don’t – and can’t – translate into the realm of artificial intelligence.

Marks has spent more than three decades in the AI ​​space, consulting for places like Microsoft, Boeing, and DARPA. Its research supporters include NASA, JPL, NIH, NSF, Raytheon, Army Research Lab, and Office of Naval Research; he has written hundreds of peer-reviewed articles; he is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Engineering and Computer Science at Baylor University; and he is the director of the Walter Bradley Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence. Clearly, Marks knows what he’s talking about – and many other experts in the field agree.

Why, then, do the headlines continually suggest that AI is already practically human and will soon become fully so? Why have smart people like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk expressed their fears that AI will overtake humanity and take over the world?

Marks points out that hype sells and that expertise in one area doesn’t translate to expertise in another, leaving brilliant people as vulnerable to hype as those of us with more ordinary minds.

Moreover, he says – and this is a crucial point – a materialistic and atheistic culture naturally wants to explain human exceptionalism. If humans are just machines, then we are not made in the image of a free and creative God, with all the remarkable immaterial traits that entails.

Marks also evokes another temptation leading to denying any difference between humans and computers. Some want to believe that AI can be made superhuman and become divine, perhaps even allowing us to “download our minds” and merge with it, or alternatively incorporate more and more mechanical components and computing devices in our own bodies and brains until we are one with this divine AI.

This idea is known as transhumanism. It is essentially an AI religion that seeks to replace traditional religion. There is already a Way of the Future AI Church.

Then you can see why this topic is so important.

Rigid Boundaries and the Image of God

In truth, you are much more than a meat computer. You are more than wetware. You possess a myriad of remarkable traits that can never be reduced to algorithms. You possess, among other things, a mind (which is not the same thing as a brain), a heart and a soul.

In short, there are strict limits that cannot be crossed. You will never be God, but at the same time, artificial intelligence will never be you. You are not calculable, largely because you are made in the image of God.

Position of Salve Magazine with permission from the author. Robert J. Marks recently answered questions about humans, computers, and algorithms in a conversation with William Dembski and John West:

James G. Williams