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Functionalists And A Case For Artificial Intelligence

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Functionalists see the mind as something that is abstract and may or may not be more than the sum of its parts. Functionalists also admit that physical states in the brain could account for all that is considered the mind. If that were the case, the mind would be made up of parts, in our case, brain cells. In the other case, if there is some non-physical quality to our minds, to clarify all the different mental states we can experience, it would still be necessary to describe the mind in parts. What is the function of these parts? There are many possible answers, such as happiness, courage, computation, or memory. It follows that all of them would be functions of the mind. It is not important what the parts of the mind are made up of, only that those parts serve a function that is considered a mental one. A mind is something that can have mental states, and since there are a vast number of metal states that could occur, we should expect to find minds in unlikely places. Currently technology is insufficient to create something that could genuinely be perceived as real intelligence. However, it is possible that we are simply bias, and that our standards for intelligence change when attributing it to things we are uncomfortable with. In many ways, computers are already thinking, learning, and communicating. Is it necessary for them to be self aware? Could we imagine being advanced enough to create a being like Data from Star Trek? Clearly technology is not the issue since it is always changing. The real issue is what qualifies as a mind. By reexamining the qualifiers of a mind, it is possible to create a computer that has a mind.

Functionalists introduce a new concept they call multiple realizability. They use a chess board as an analogy. Since chess boards and their pieces can be made out of many different materials, and can look like many different objects, the chess pieces cannot be described in terms of their physical qualities, they can only be described by their functions and relationships to the other pieces. Functionalists are giving us an example of how we are to describe the parts of a mind. Also, it is possible that there exists an intelligent alien species somewhere else in the universe. “Hence, the functionalist would say that we could imagine alien beings (Martians) that have a completely different biochemistry from ours but the same sort of psychological makeup (Lawhead, p.235).” They would have evolved based on the conditions of their planet which could be vastly different from ours. Again, the similarities between an alien mind and a human mind could only be described by how they function, not their physical makeup.

Alan Turing came up with an interesting test to determine if computers can think. His premise was that if a human could be fooled as to whether or not they were interacting with another human or a computer, then this would be sufficient to say that a computer was thinking. Since then, no computer has ever passed the test. Even though it is likely that a computer will one day pass this test, an important flaw in the test was realized. John Searly came up with an analogous situation where a person in a room is passed notes in Chinese. They know nothing of Chinese but with the help of a book, they can reply with appropriate responses. A Chinese speaker on the outside may believe that the person in the room understands Chinese when actually they do not. It would be quite the accomplishment if a computer could really give human-like responses, but it wouldn’t necessarily mean the computer could think.

There is another feat that was previously thought to be impossible. Edgar Alan Poe wrote on the subject of a machine playing chess. “No one move in chess necessarily follows upon any one other (Lawhead, p.233).” He was highlighting what he thought was the chief difference between humans and machines. That humans alone are capable of judgment and choice. In 1997 a computer named Deep Blue built by IBM beat the current world champion Garry Kasparov. While it is an amazing accomplishment, its victory alone does not mean that Deep Blue has a mind. Chess can be reduced to advantages and disadvantages. Keeping track of every possible moves for a turn and their advantages, and then examining every possible future move might be impossible for a human. However for a computer, all it takes is the proper programming and enough memory to accomplish this. It should be no surprise that a computer would eventually outsmart the human race at a game of chess. As to the criticism that Deep Blue was not playing chess but only simulating it, it should be noted that humans can play chess through the mail or the internet. These forms of chess may simulate a face to face game, but the players are still actually playing. It would be impossible for Deep Blue to play chess at such a level without it understanding the object of the game, the tendencies of the other player, and the relationship of all the pieces.

Every time computers and technology exceed our expectations,



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