Monday, 31 October 2016

Muddlehead

Muddlehead the computer thinks that a court might decide that he owns goods that he has individually earned. Lee Chan retorts:

"'You're not a person!...Not even in fact, let alone the law!'" (David Falkayn: Star Trader, p. 208)

My understanding has been that Muddlehead is a consciousness-level "computer." True or false? In any case, either he is or he is not. If he is not, then Chee is arguing with no one. If he is conscious, then he is a person in fact and should be in law. In that case, whether he can own property is purely a matter of the laws governing property in any given society.

Asimov's Robot stories fail to address this issue. The robots are self-conscious and intelligent, yet are property and can legally be destroyed. It is not good enough that the question about their rights is never even addressed.

10 comments:

  1. Kaor, Paul!

    Yes, Muddlehead is a conscious level, self aware computer. That has to make it or him a person in fact and, logically, in law as well. Would such computers also have immortal souls? Or believe in God? I'm reminded of both Anthony Boucher's "Quest For St. Aquin" and Poul Anderson's "Epilogue". However, I'm still skeptical of such AIs ever being made!

    Yes, the way Asimov seems to have flinched away from considering the philosophic implications of his sentient, self aware robots is a serious weakness of his robot stories.

    Sean

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    1. Sean,
      I was taught that to be a rational being was to have a soul because rationality was impossible for mere matter. I no longer believe this. "Matter" is energy which goes through qualitative transformations, including consciousness and intelligence.
      Paul.

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    2. Kaor, Paul!

      And this, alas, is where I still have to disagree with you. I do believe that to have a rational being is to be still MORE than merely "energy" going thru various kinds of transformations.

      I mentioned Poul Anderson's "Epilogue" because, despite it being relatively story, it has to be one of his most ingenious works. In it we see not only how it might be possible, using von Neumann principles, for robots/computers to evolve, but also to develop a kind of male/female sexual reproduction. AND, we even see Zero and his very strange wife praying an AI's version of the Pater Noster.

      Sean

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  2. Kaor, Paul!

    It may perhaps amuse you to know that while I have NOTHING against poker, my favorite game is chess. And I've been beaten many times by chess computers. And these chess programs did not even need to be self aware and conscious to beat me!

    Anyone who has read many of the works of Poul Anderson would soon notice how he too was fond of chess. And even wrote a very good SF story using the moves of a real chess game: "The Immortal Game."

    Sean

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  3. Paul and Sean:
    If Muddlehead has self-awareness AND is property ... then he is a SLAVE. The ramifications of all the characters casually ignoring THAT elephant in the room are about as distressing as the problem with Asimovian robots....

    Alfred Coppel wrote a book, *The Starkahn of Rhada*, in which the title character travels with an intelligent ship. At one point, the ship's AI mentions that she could be downloaded into a human-looking body if she chose (there's an implication that she may feel some jealousy about his attraction to a young woman they recently encountered). She's NOT a slave, going only where her human associate directs. He's shocked that she'd think of giving up her ship-body's freedom of interstellar travel, just in order to become a pretty girl.

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    1. Kaor, DAVID!

      You have raised interesting questions which needs to be pondered. But I don't know how the problem posed by sentient, self aware computers like Muddlehead was handled by Technic Civilization. On the one hand, as we see in Section 8 of "The Troubletwisters," Gujgengi was puzzled by Muddlehead: "...had already had demonstrated to him, before the present wretched contretemps, that the flying house (no, the word was 'shi', with some unpronounceable consonant at the end, was it not?) could speak and think. Unless, to be sure, the strangers had deceived him, and there was really just someone else inside. If so, however, the someone had a peculiar personality, with little or no will of its own." That would seem to bear out Chee Lan's later assertion that Muddlehead was not a person. After all, as Muddlehead told Gujgengi, even if it observed one of the trader team in difficulties, it could do only what it had been ordered to do. True, this was complicated by Muddlehead earning a big fee, but as he or it said near the end of the story: " 'I am not programmed to ponder how a court would adjudicate title to those article,' said Muddlehead, ' However, my understanding is that in a commercially and individualistically oriented civilization, any legitimate earnings belong to the earner.'"

      I can only conclude that the question of the "personhood" of sentient, self aware computers like Muddlehead may well not yet had been settled and adjudicated by Technic Civilization. There would seem to be good arguments both ways in this question: AIs can only do what they are programmed or ordered to do, hence they are not real persons. On the other hand, by having the faculty of logical judgment and having SOME leeway in using it (as evidenced by the Gujgengi incident) to earn fees, they are thus persons.

      I myself would be inclined to agree self aware, sentient level computers have to logically be considered persons and therefore should not be treated as mere property. But, the bit about "little or no will of its own" makes me hesitate. A tough problem to have philosophers and jurists wrestle with!

      Sean

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    2. Sean,
      If, by "matter," we mean mechanically interacting particles with only the quantifiable properties of mass and volume, then matter cannot be conscious or think. If, by "energy," we mean only light, heat, gravity or nuclear interactions, then energy cannot be conscious or think. However, if, by "energy," we mean dynamic being with unlimited potential, then it makes sense to suggest that: (i) naturally selected organismic sensitivity to environmental alterations quantitatively increased until it was qualitatively transformed into conscious sensation; (ii) cerebral processing transformed mere sensations into perceptions of discrete objects; (iii) manipulation of the environment stimulated the cerebral process of thinking about the environment; (iv) the layers of the brain reflect these stages of evolution; (v) consciousness and intelligence emerged from organism-environment interactions and cannot exist independently of them; (vi) indeed, how could they?
      Paul.

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    3. Kaor, Paul!

      It's good that you don't agree with rigid determinists who claim everything has a physical cause, including even our thoughts. That we are not mere "meat-robots," to use Mr. Wright's term. And I do believe evolution is real and played a role in the developing of the human race. However, I still believe that to be a rational being still means we have souls which can exist separately from the body after death.

      Sean

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    4. Sean,
      Mental states are not simply identical with brain states. A description of my brain as observed by a scientist and a description of my memories, thoughts and feelings are not descriptions of the same thing. Mental states have additional properties, e.g., a mental act can have a nonexistent object whereas a physical act cannot - we can look for the Grail but not drink from it. However, surely the evidence is that mental states emerge from brain states and are dependent on them? Can we see without eyes, hear without ears, remember without RNA in the brain, think clearly if concussed, remain conscious when given a general anaesthetic, think without a brain?
      Paul.

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    5. Sean,
      I discuss these issues at greater length in "Minds and Brains" on the Religion and Philosophy blog, Wednesday 16 May 2012.
      Paul.

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