Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, April 25, 2016

The End

Turing & Searle, Singer (LH); WATCH: The Life You Can Save (HI). 1st blog post installment due;  Exam... Podcast

No quiz on the last day, but if there were these would be the questions:

1. What was the Imitation Game, and who devised a thought experiment to oppose it?

2. What, according to Searle, is involved in truly understanding something?

3. How do some philosophers think we might use computers to achieve immortality?

4. What does Peter Singer say we should sacrifice, to help strangers?

5.Why did Singer first become famous?

6. How does Singer represent the best tradition in philosophy?

1. Can you imagine ever having a personal relationship with a computer? (Think of the movie "Her"...) Can you think of a better test of human-level intelligence than Turing's, incorporating more than just the processing of information? How could we ever know for sure that a machine had acquired genuine consciousness and will? Do we know for sure, for that matter, that other persons possess it?

2. Give an example of something you truly understand. Can you rule out the possibility that a machine could understand it too, in the same way? How? Or, if not, does that bother you? Why or why not?

3. Would you want to achieve computer-assisted immortality, possibly in the fashion of the film "Transcendence"? Do you believe you can "live long enough [corporeally] to live forever" [digitally]? What would be the (dis)appeal of that, to you? 

4. Have you ever intervened to help a stranger in distress, or made a charitable contribution whose beneficiaries you would not meet? Why or why not? Will you, in the future?

5. Is there anything wrong with eating animals? Is it ok to eat animals who've been treated humanely? If you're a vegetarian but not a vegan, why?

6. After studying philosophy, do you think you'll be more inclined in the future to take controversial positions in public and support them with reasoned arguments and documented facts?

An old post-

Last day of class. But, as I never tire of repeating, nothing has really concluded. You all have lifetimes of philosophizing ahead of you.

(Also worth repeating: "A yes, a no, a straight line, a goal," Nietzsche's "formula" of happiness. Not that it worked out all that well for him.)

I also never tire of repeating: you don't have to follow anybody...

but you could do worse than to follow the example of Peter Singer, “the best known living moral philosopher” who urges us to "think through" what most take for granted, then alter our acts and assumptions accordingly.

Singer's on our final CoPhi bill (after John Searle and Alan Turing [PhilDic] at the end of Little History of Philosophy today.

“How should we treat animals?” Respectfully, of course. But does that mean we can eat them or not? Singer says no. Michael Pollan, among others, says maybe. I say I wish they’d build a better Boca Burger.
Alan Turing was a strange, heroic, and tragic figure who contributed more to preserving the world we had (by cracking the Nazis’ codes) and shaping the digitized world we live in now (by contributing to the creation of the computer). Turing’s CathedralThe Enigma... Imitation Game

Turing’s test for artificial intelligence is said by some to imply that if something functions intelligently, it is intelligent; and if its functionality resembles human personality in superficial ways, we may then speak of it as possessing human-grade intelligence.

And who knows? If you’re prepared to entertain that proposal, maybe you can also envision a mainframe host in your personal future. Maybe there will be a way to “map the billions of functional connections” of your brain onto a machine capable of replicating and preserving your intelligence and memories. Welcome to the brave new afterlife.

Seems pretty far-fetched, and it’s unclear that one’s hopes and dreams and delights– the stuff of embodied personhood– can be self-replicated (as distinct from propagated or transmittedor mimetically reproduced) in any meaningful sense. Never mind whether they should be. Planet’s pretty crowded as it is, and maybe one time around the wheel is only our fair share.

And anyway, as John Searle says, tests like Turing’s may not be any more conclusive about real intelligence than his Chinese Room thought experiment.

Advances in AI don’t seem to have come as quickly as some have speculated they might. But it’s still fun to ponder the possibilities, as Richard Powers did in his wonderfully informed and entertaining Galatea 2.2.

What a moment we find ourselves in! Ray Kurzweil calls this the Age of Spiritual Machines. If you can just live long enough– until the year 2040 or so, last I heard– you can live forever. He means you, kids. And he’s popping enough vitamins to delude himself into thinking that maybe he means himself as well. Good luck. I’m not holding my breath. I confess, I used to have a Sleeper fantasy like Woody’s. But Ted Williams kinda ruined it for me. (Fresh Air 12.3.13)

The best form of immortality may be the same as it ever was: a legacy rippling across time, impacting lives far beyond one’s own. Alan Turing didn’t live long enough to get himself fully digitized, but the digital world he set in motion has already secured a legacy likely to outlive us all. It dwarfs the primitive world of reflexive sexual bigotry he had to suffer in his brief lifetime.

To those who have a hard time fathoming how machines might ever acquire self-awareness, intentionality, and thought, Turing asks you t o ask yourself: how did we? "Instead of trying to produce a programme to simulate the adult mind, why not rather try to produce one which simulates the child’s? If this were then subjected to an appropriate course of education one would obtain the adult brain." Computing Machinery and Intelligence

Singer’s challenge. Peter Singer challenges the way we live in the relatively prosperous western world (“western” here is less a geographic designation than a state of mind and material comfort) on many fronts, including how we eat, how much we luxuriate, how much we earmark for our own offspring, and how much we give away to strangers. He sets the bar of selfless generosity much higher than our culture of consumption rewards. But the rewards of consumption don’t begin to match those of humane compassion.

  • “If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it.”
  • “If possessing a higher degree of intelligence does not entitle one human to use another for his or her own ends, how can it entitle humans to exploit non-humans?”
  • “The Hebrew word for “charity” tzedakah, simply means “justice” and as this suggests, for Jews, giving to the poor is no optional extra but an essential part of living a just life.”
  • “Just as we have progressed beyond the blatantly racist ethic of the era of slavery and colonialism, so we must now progress beyond the speciesist ethic of the era of factory farming, of the use of animals as mere research tools, of whaling, seal hunting, kangaroo slaughter, and the destruction of wilderness. We must take the final step in expanding the circle of ethics.”
  • “To give preference to the life of a being simply because that being is a member of our species would put us in the same position as racists who give preference to those who are members of their race.”
  • “Philosophy ought to question the basic assumptions of the age. Thinking through, critically and carefully, what most of us take for granted is, I believe, the chief task of philosophy, and the task that makes philosophy a worthwhile activity.”

 Singer’s website… Practical Ethics… The Life You Can Save… Animal Liberation… “The Singer Solution“… “Unspeakable Conversations

So, the end is nigh. But since it's really not: carry on. Keep asking questions, create satisfaction, follow your bliss, and as Joseph Campbell also said: "your own track, kid, not what your guru tells you."


  1. In 1950, Alan Turing was the first person to offer a test for machine intelligence: The Turing Test. Turing himself even determined his test could decide whether a machine could actually "think" or have a "mind", as these questions were too vague to answer. But he did believe that his was the only way to ask a meaningful version of that question. "Could a machine carry on a conversation sufficiently well to fool humans into thinking that it was human?" Although the Turing Test is controversial, there are many who find it a reasonable test for intelligence and for language understanding.
    The test involves two subjects, a human and a machine who engage in conversations with some number of interrogators. Each interrogator would be placed in a room with a computer terminal. Using the terminal to communicate, each interrogator would engage in two conversations with each of the two subjects -- the computer and the human -- without knowing which of the two subjects is machine and which is human. After the conversation with both subjects, the interrogator must guess which is human and which machine.

    John Searle rejects functionalism and does not believe that the Turing Test is a reliable test for intelligence. In fact, he believes he has an argument that shows that no classical artificial intelligence program running on a digital computer will give a machine the capacity to understand a language. He calls his argument the "Chinese Room Argument." Searle imagines himself alone in a room following a computer program for responding to Chinese characters slipped under the door. Searle understands nothing of Chinese, and yet, by following the program for manipulating symbols and numerals just as a computer does, he produces appropriate strings of Chinese characters that fool those outside into thinking there is a Chinese speaker in the room.
    From both standpoints, something is glaringly obvious, at least to me. Both of these men are able to expose the masses for what they truly are: robots. People operate on the same basic level as computers, able to respond passably to notes or messages or conversations that they do not adequately comprehend. Somehow the average man is able to communicate with others in a reasonably facsimile even if he doesn’t completely understand the dialog. How ironic it is that these two set about to answer such question in our computerized age about “artificial intelligence”, when perhaps even unknowingly they exposed one of the great flaws, if you will, of society. We are programmed with basic functioning ability, to respond or to think or to carry on rudimentary exchanges, with the same competence of a machine.
    Perhaps this is one of the goals of philosophy, though, that we should endeavor to let our speech, our thoughts, our interactions be more than programmed reactions to banality. We should seek discourse of some higher plane, at least occasionally. All of these thoughts lead me back to the “unexamined life”, which is no doubt not exactly what Turing and Searle had in mind. Or perhaps it was. After all, Turing said, “No, I'm not interested in developing a powerful brain. All I'm after is just a mediocre brain, something like the President of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company.” Maybe he had caught on that humans daily operate on their lowest “setting”. Searle noted, “There are clear cases in which 'understanding' literally applies and clear cases in which it does not apply; and these two sorts of cases are all I need for this argument.” His search for knowledge and understanding were at least an acknowledgment that there is a double-sided coin to reason and “truth”.

  2. Is there anything wrong with eating animals? Is it ok to eat animals who've been treated humanely? If you're a vegetarian but not a vegan, why?
    Part of the question is “How should we treat animals?” As a wise man once said in his blog: “Respectfully, of course. But does that mean we can eat them or not? Singer says no.” But then ethicist Peter Singer has also suggested that no newborn should be considered a person until 30 days after birth. He isn’t alone in his seemingly cold approach to our treatment of babies. As recently as the late 1970's, and perhaps according to surveys of medical professionals as recently as 1986, infants as old as 15 months were receiving no anesthesia during surgery at most American hospitals.
    In 1979 Singer wrote, “Human babies are not born self-aware, or capable of grasping that they exist over time. They are not persons”; therefore, “the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.” He asserts that the right to life is essentially tied to a being's capacity to hold preferences. I find that a little odd, given his “flexible veganism”. If a person finds the eating of meat to be an anathema, would it not always be wrong? And if babies come that low on his “totem pole” of consideration, how do other animals rate so much higher?
    Actually, I do agree with part of his opinion. I think when animals are treated humanely, it is much more acceptable to eat them. As my favorite philosopher, my sister Kesi Dremel, has often opined: A person should only eat something that has been allowed to truly live freely. If an animal is left to graze the open field, watch the sun cross a brilliantly blue sky, prance around in refreshing rains, then I find much less problem with enjoying their nourishment and goodness. I can’t in all good conscience eat an animal that has been callously caged or harmed. It hasn’t had a chance at life. Interestingly enough, I believe science is coming to the point of proving meat rendered from such hideous circumstances is less nourishing anyway.
    Along the same line, my favorite philosopher pointed out to me long ago, and I heartily agree, vegans totally ignore the life and personality of plants. Plants respond to sunlight, to voices, to music, to vibrations. Plants eat, plants even communicate with one another. So why are we okay with eating them and not animals? Again, this is where I also am much more comfortable eating plants which have been grown “freely”, in small, loving family gardens, rather than by big corporations with petroleum- based fertilizers and pesticides, corrupted by genetic modifiers.
    I’m not trying to be silly. These are important issues to me. We’re all part of the proverbial “circle of life”. We tend the animals and the plants and the earth and in turn, the animals, plants, and earth tend us ---- but it only works as it should if we are all allowed freedom to experience life fully.

  3. 6 Brock Francis
    4. Have you ever intervened to help a stranger in distress, or made a charitable contribution whose beneficiaries you would not meet? Why or why not? Will you, in the future?
    I make charitable donations a lot through church, all of which I do not see the end means to. I do it, and will continue to do it because it feels like the right thing to do.

    5. Is there anything wrong with eating animals? Is it ok to eat animals who've been treated humanely? If you're a vegetarian but not a vegan, why?
    I feel like there is something a bit morally wrong with it, but I feel like we ofter over come that feeling due to the natural chain in the animal kingdom.