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2020

Will Computers Ever Become Self-Aware?

According to Hans Moravec of the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University, by 2020 a $1,000 personal computer will have the raw processing power of a human brain.

This is a prediction few doubt, although there is not consensus on what it means. The common implication is that computers will thus be as “smart” as us and then 18 months later twice as smart. It will be the end of humans as the dominant life form on earth, soon to be reduced to pets for the machines.

I don’t think it means anything like that. In fact, I don’t think it means anything. If at one point, say in 1885, someone said that in a few years, cars will move faster than humans, would we worry they would become human? Or replace humans?

At its base, this idea would suggest that our brains are simply computers. And that once computers match our processing power, they will become like us.

But I don’t think our brains are anything like computers. Their ability to match our “processing power” is no more significant than if they matched our weight or skin tone.

I am not a computer. I am self-aware. There is no evidence that awareness comes from processing power. Yet, this is always asserted by those who claim processing power is material. You are conscious, but you don’t know how. A colony of ants has an emergent intelligence. It is smarter than any individual ant. It is smarter than all the ants put together. You are made of cells which know nothing of you, don’t know they are part of you, and yet you are aware of them. Why do we think computers will be emergent? They are mechanistic in a way I do not think I am.

There are those who say this viewpoint is archaic, superstitious, antiquated or self-serving. Maybe they are right. Really. The point is that no one really knows. We are all making our best guess. Yet I am qualitatively different than my laptop. We are not the same thing. No matter how fast the PC is, it will never be aware of itself.

Note, the photo is from Jeffrey Stephenson’s site: http://slipperyskip.com/page17.html. He takes old radio cases and other artifacts of the early 20th century and masterfully fills them with computer components. He combines the best design of the years past with the best technology of the present to create works of art.

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