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5/24/04

Home_____Thinking Without Thinking: Marvin Minsky, The Dalai Lama, & Artificial Intelligence

Some people think that consciousness and computers are a contradiction in terms. That is, they believe that computers can never qualify as conscious, which is a uniquely human quality.

Marvin Minsky believes that conscious artificial intelligence is not at all out of the question, which is in keeping with his writings. His thinking in no regard qualifies as religious, and therefore holds nothing sacred about human ability. Would religious leaders differ with him? If readers expected solid disagreement from the Tibetan Buddhist community, they might be surprised to learn that the Dalai Lama does not take exception to a point of view such as Minsky's. Here, then, are two perspectives on the issue, first Minsky, then the Dalai Lama.

  • Minsky: " Just as we walk without thinking, we think without thinking! We don't know how our muscles make us walk--nor do we know much more about the agencies that do our mental work. When you have a hard problem to solve, you think about if for a time. Then, perhaps, the answer seems to come all at once, and you say, ' Aha, I've got it. I'll do such and such.' But if someone were to ask how you found the solution, you could rarely say more than things like the following :

    ' I suddenly realized . . . '

    ' I just got the idea . . . '

    ' It occurred to me that . . . '

    If we could really sense the workings of our minds, we wouldn't act so often in accord with motives we don't suspect. We wouldn't have such varied and conflicting theories for psychology. And when we're asked how people get their good ideas, we wouldn't be reduced to metaphors about ' ruminating,' and ' digesting,' ' conceiving' and ' giving birth' to concepts--as though our thoughts were anywhere but in the head. If we could see inside our minds, we'd surely have more useful things to say.

    Many people seem absolutely certain that no computer could ever be sentient, conscious, self-willed, or in any other way ' aware' of itself. But . . . More

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