Frank Wilczek’s simple answer to three contentious questions about AI

In Possible Minds, Frank Wilczek is one of 25 thought leaders who address the promise and peril of AI.

Here is his answer to three “contentious” questions:

o Can intelligence be conscious?
o Can an artificial intelligence be creative?
o Can an artificial intelligence be evil?

“Those questions are often posed today, both in popular media and in scientifically informed debates. But the discussions never seem to converge. Here I’ll begin by answering them as follows.

“Based on physiological, psychology, neurobiology, and physics, it would be very surprising if the answers were not Yes, Yes, and Yes. The reason is simple, yet profound. Evidence from these fields makes it overwhelmingly likely that there is no sharp divide between natural and artificial intelligence.

“In his 1994 book of that title, the renowned biologist Francis Crick proposed an ‘Astonishing Hypothesis’: that mind emerges from matter. He famously claimed that mind, in all its respects, is ‘no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.’

“The ‘Astonishing Hypothesis’ is in fact the foundation of neuroscience…No has ever stumbled upon a power of mind that is separate from separate physical events in biological organisms. While there are many things we do not [as yet] understand about brains, and about minds, the ‘astonishing hypothesis’ has held intact.”

Here’s Wilczek’s straightforward conclusion

o Human mind emerges from matter.
o Matter is what physicists say it is.
o Therefore, the human mind emerges from physical processes we understand and can reproduce artificially.
o Therefore, natural intelligence is a special case of artificial intelligence.

*     *     *

Frank Wilczek is Herman Feshbach Professor of Physics at MIT, recipient of the 2004 Nobel Prize in physics, and the author of A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design.

Possible Minds: 25 Ways of Looking at AI, Edited by John Brockman, was published by Penguin Press/An imprint of Penguin Random House (February 2019)


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