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    [Discuss] An Essay on Metaphysics

    Hey there, MPGH, I've been browsing the Debate Fort recently and have stumbled over some interesting topics on philosophy. This is one of two philosophical essays that I wrote last year and figured I'd post them up here for some discussion. Please share any thoughts or arguments that this essay provokes, I'm very interested to hear new perspectives and ideas. The topic of this essay is Metaphysics and addresses the topic of whether or not computers/machines deserve "human" rights.


    Metaphysics Essay
    HZT4U


    Over the past 10 years technology has advanced at an astonishing rate. Many new devices and objects have been designed and created to make our lives easier and more convenient. However, the most noticeable advancement has been in computer technology. Computers have become more and more like human beings, even capable of mimicking a human conversation. The Turing Test was a test designed by Alan Turing in order to test the intelligence of a machine. Eventually, I believe a computer will be able to pass this test, but will never truly be a “thinking thing” that deserves “human” rights. In order to determine this, we must look at how computers “think” and behave in comparison to a human being.

    Several computers have been designed to mimick a human being in conversation. Take “Smarterchild” for example. Smarterchild was a program designed to interact with users through instant-message applications, such as AOL or Windows Live Messenger. Users could “talk” to the computer by inputting questions, statements, etc. Smarterchild would respond with an appropriate answer, making it seem “human”. However, the bot does not actually “think” about the appropriate response and then state it. It must select the response from a pre-programmed list. The bot is programmed with as many phrases, questions, jokes, facts (you get the idea) as possible. Each one is matched with a response. When the user inputs something, it is compared to the list of phrases that are stored in the bot's memory. When a match is found, the bot replies with the response that was linked to the specified input phrase. The bot is not capable of generating a response on its own, taking into account things like its “mood”, preferences, thoughts, etc. Moreover, the bot is sometimes incapable of providing a correct response if the response, or question/statement/etc warranting it, is not programmed into the memory. Now that we know how a computer thinks, lets discus how it behaves independently.

    Computers can be programmed to do almost anything. Unfortunately, they will do nothing unless programmed to do so. Anything a computer does is a result of programming. However, computers may be programmed with extremely complex scripts and algorithms. These scripts may be quite comprehensive, causing certain events to trigger other events and so on. However, the computer never really “thinks” for itself. If a computer was left sitting on a table, it would not do anything. It would not play a game, do research, read a book (e-book?), and so on. A computer cannot have moods or emotions based on external events and influences. It can only use what information is programmed into its memory. No matter how comprehensive its memory may be, it cannot generate new information or “have an epiphony” and create something that has never been seen before by human eyes.

    Although computers may be “thinking” things, they are not conscious or self-aware beings. Computers may be able to immitate human behaviour through their programming, but they will never “think” like a human being. Humans have many factors affecting the way they behave, such as emotions, morality, and personal values. Computers lack these qualities and rely only upon pre-determined knowledge and information to function. Even if a computer could be able to function on its own without any human input, it would not deserve “human” rights for one simple reason: it is not human. A computer will never (at least not in our lifetime) have the same qualities that make humans what they are. Human beings are defined by qualities such as emotion and a sense of right and wrong. These qualities affect the way we think, behave, interact with others and many other parts of our daily lives.

    As you can see, there are several distinct differences between a computer and a “thinking thing”. A computer is simply a machine that calculates data and provides a pre-determined answer or response to the input data. In order for a machine to truly be a “thinking thing” it must be able to experience and feel emotions like anger, joy, sadness and have a sense of morality. A computer must be able to take into account external influences on itself (as a thinking thing) as well as any situation it is faced with. Until a computer is capable of these things, it will never truly be a “thinking thing” that deserves “human” rights.

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    Alen's Avatar
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    As a whole I believe the essay is a great work, but I believe you could have expanded and gone into greater detail with several points you raised. The first two paragraphs serve as a good introduction into the topic and present how bots work nowadays.

    Now, as you reach the 3rd paragraph with comparing human brain processes with those of a computer. Now while I do agree with what was said in the 3rd paragraph, you make a "mistake" in the 4th paragraph when you say "Computers may be able to immitate human behaviour through their programming, but they will never “think” like a human being.". As long as a computer runs a fixed program that we created and follows our commands it will never really be able to be conscious. It will never be able to really learn, develop or evolve into a conscious / "thinking" thing since it will always work on a set of rules and logical operations we set.

    But if we were to make a computer of amazing capabilities and created a program base that would function as one's subconscious and and that would feed information to the computer whilst also having a "conscious" programming part that would allow for self-alteration (so that the program can modify itself as it sees fit) you would only be limiting the computer to what his hardware can do, much like we are limited to what our neurons can do. Think of it this way (assume that we have reached the impossible as far as hardware goes): you have a real human brain in a vat. Now you copy the brain's exact structure, connections, neural actions into a counterpart machine connected to whatever the brain in the vat is connected to. If you would really manage to copy that brain and if the hardware would allow for neuron simulation you would have created a conscious being. It would not be limited to your preprogrammed rules and operations, it would, just like a human or animal, be able to create new "neural pathways" etc.

    Meh, I explain way better when I'm not limited to typing out my thoughts

    Another point that I have to disagree with is the one you made about a human's "emotions, morality, and personal values". Of those only one is biologically predetermined - basic emotions. Morality and values are a product of the culture where you're brought up. But, as I said, if we would be able to recreate something of the brain's complexity and create the parts not under our conscious control, we could in a sense imitate even emotions.

    I'll go into detail later, I don't really have time to write an essay now

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    Quote Originally Posted by Coeus View Post
    As a whole I believe the essay is a great work, but I believe you could have expanded and gone into greater detail with several points you raised. The first two paragraphs serve as a good introduction into the topic and present how bots work nowadays.
    Yeah, I was limited to a specific word count for this essay (i think it was 750 words), so I didn't get to expand in as much detail as I would have liked. I definitely would have liked to discuss, at least in part, the Turing Test.

    Quote Originally Posted by Coeus View Post
    you make a "mistake" in the 4th paragraph when you say "Computers may be able to immitate human behaviour through their programming, but they will never “think” like a human being.". As long as a computer runs a fixed program that we created and follows our commands it will never really be able to be conscious. It will never be able to really learn, develop or evolve into a conscious / "thinking" thing since it will always work on a set of rules and logical operations we set.
    That may have been a poor choice of words on my part. I don't mean to say a computer will ever really be a conscious thing. It will merely calculate and respond with pre-determined data. For example, it would never be able to truly "think", taking into account emotions, external influences, etc. MUST follow said rules/regulations in the programming and cannot add in additional factors to the calculation.

    Quote Originally Posted by Coeus View Post
    If you would really manage to copy that brain and if the hardware would allow for neuron simulation you would have created a conscious being. It would not be limited to your preprogrammed rules and operations, it would, just like a human or animal, be able to create new "neural pathways" etc.
    Interesting idea. But then would you consider that machine to be "human"? Does it deserve the same rights as an actual human being? Would the "brain" truly be able to function without having access to all of the methods of data input that are available to humans (our 5 senses: touch, sight, taste, you get the point)?

    Quote Originally Posted by Coeus View Post
    Another point that I have to disagree with is the one you made about a human's "emotions, morality, and personal values". Of those only one is biologically predetermined - basic emotions. Morality and values are a product of the culture where you're brought up. But, as I said, if we would be able to recreate something of the brain's complexity and create the parts not under our conscious control, we could in a sense imitate even emotions.
    I suppose that's true. But what about the fact that people react differently to different situations? For example, someone someone whistling a tune may piss me off, but another person may feel calmed by the music. Actually, I suppose that's more of a "personality" thing.

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    The only thing separating a computer and a human brain are the number of computations it can process, processing compartments and a few levels of abstraction. I don't see many things stopping computers from reaching this arbitrary goal of sentience with sufficient time and progress. Emotions are deterministic even if we have a hard time comprehending them.
    "We swallow greedily any lie that flatters us, but we sip only little by little at a truth we find bitter." ~ Denis Diderot

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    Speedy1515's Avatar
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    The way I see it, even if a computer does reach the point where it is a sentient being, can we consider it to be more than anything but a machine? Or do we automatically begin to regard it as its own, unique race or being?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Speedy1515 View Post
    Interesting idea. But then would you consider that machine to be "human"? Does it deserve the same rights as an actual human being? Would the "brain" truly be able to function without having access to all of the methods of data input that are available to humans (our 5 senses: touch, sight, taste, you get the point)?
    Well the senses / stimuli it would have access to depend what "body" it would have at it's disposal. That's the main problem with the concept of a computer-being actually (how would it understand our being and how would we understand it's being) =/

    Quote Originally Posted by Speedy1515 View Post
    I suppose that's true. But what about the fact that people react differently to different situations? For example, someone someone whistling a tune may piss me off, but another person may feel calmed by the music. Actually, I suppose that's more of a "personality" thing.
    That is just a product of our complexity. If you created a computer complex enough to develop itself, no two such beings would be exactly the same unless you fed them exactly the same stimuli in the exact same conditions etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by Paroxysm View Post
    The only thing separating a computer and a human brain are the number of computations it can process, processing compartments and a few levels of abstraction. I don't see many things stopping computers from reaching this arbitrary goal of sentience with sufficient time and progress. Emotions are deterministic even if we have a hard time comprehending them.
    ^ that and the fact that a human brain has a body at it's disposal + that the brain is optimized to recieve / respond to stimuli.

    Quote Originally Posted by Speedy1515 View Post
    The way I see it, even if a computer does reach the point where it is a sentient being, can we consider it to be more than anything but a machine? Or do we automatically begin to regard it as its own, unique race or being?
    Probably unique "being".

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paroxysm View Post
    The only thing separating a computer and a human brain are the number of computations it can process, processing compartments and a few levels of abstraction. I don't see many things stopping computers from reaching this arbitrary goal of sentience with sufficient time and progress. Emotions are deterministic even if we have a hard time comprehending them.
    not really an arbitrary goal since computers are still just machines.

    They do what you tell them, exactly that and nothing more.

    sentience would allow them to decide what they want to do.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Empire View Post


    not really an arbitrary goal since computers are still just machines.

    They do what you tell them, exactly that and nothing more.

    sentience would allow them to decide what they want to do.
    To what extent do we really have free will? To the extent that we can convince ourselves that we're free.
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    Quite the thread we have here. Havn't read any of it but I'll throw in the fact that computer's can't actually have judgement of their own, unless told by a program or other such thing they do as the user commands, and I think that this itself is enough to prove that a computer isn't anything but a machine. It all involves human or programmed robotic interaction.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dr. Greenthumb View Post
    Quite the thread we have here. Havn't read any of it but I'll throw in the fact that computer's can't actually have judgement of their own, unless told by a program or other such thing they do as the user commands, and I think that this itself is enough to prove that a computer isn't anything but a machine. It all involves human or programmed robotic interaction.
    And people are biologically and socially programmed. Sometimes I think we would be better if we were done in C#
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    Quote Originally Posted by Paroxysm View Post
    And people are biologically and socially programmed. Sometimes I think we would be better if we were done in C#
    Compare the flexibility of a programming language and of neurons ... yeah, I think you get the point.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Coeus View Post
    Compare the flexibility of a programming language and of neurons ... yeah, I think you get the point.
    You're talking about something different entirely.
    Paroxysm was making a point in regards to the fact that we have all been programmed and reprogrammed since conception to determine how to react to input data, just as a computer is programmed to do.
    How is that any different from a machine/computer?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paroxysm View Post
    To what extent do we really have free will? To the extent that we can convince ourselves that we're free.
    Free will is completely different than what machines are now.

    If i want to snap, i snap. Unless you specifically ask for a snap, the machine will not do it.

    Machine's nowadays are as sentient as a wedge.
    ---------------------------------

    On topic, that essay is shit. The flow is pretty slow, along with the originality.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Empire View Post


    Free will is completely different than what machines are now.

    If i want to snap, i snap. Unless you specifically ask for a snap, the machine will not do it.

    Machine's nowadays are as sentient as a wedge.
    ---------------------------------

    On topic, that essay is shit. The flow is pretty slow, along with the originality.
    My point exactly. Oh, and thanks for the confidence booster on my writing :P

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    Quote Originally Posted by Speedy1515 View Post
    My point exactly. Oh, and thanks for the confidence booster on my writing :P
    Don't worry, english class should help.

    Its ok for highschool though maybe not the best.

    If you are doing it for science in highschool its completely fine tho since they expect very little lulz.


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