(These are excerpts from my book "Intelligence is not Artificial")
Transcendental Intermezzo: Neural Variant
Neuroscience has pinpointed specific areas of the brain that are responsible for the loss of specific skills. If a certain region of the brain is impaired, then the person loses the ability to do something. While neuroscientists warn that the functioning of the brain is not so simple, and that many regions can interact during an apparently linear process, the temptation to view the brain as a set of neural networks is hard to resist. If artificial general intelligence (A.G.I.) is simply the sum of its parts, then it is just a matter of devising all the neural networks required to perform the functions of an average person. Today's neural networks tend to be highly specialized, and their performance is highly dependent on the dataset used to train them, but it is entirely plausible to believe that progress in their design will lead to more robust architectures, and that eventually someone will find a way to integrate a myriad of neural networks into an artificial brain that will match the human brain in every single activity.
If you believe that A.G.I. is merely the set of all artificial neural networks required to perform all the tasks that we perform, there is an important consequence but not the one that most people discuss. It is not that the machine will some day be free willing, but that... we don't have free will. If you believe that our brain is shaped by genes (just like the brain of a artificial neural network is shaped by its designer) and by "datasets" (experience), then we, just like the artificial neural networks, simply execute what is programmed in our brain. Where is my free will? I can blame all my sins on the genes that initially shaped my brain and on the "datasets" that trained my brain to produce the behavior that it does.
The physiologist Benjamin Libet at UC San Francisco discovered that we become aware of our actions only "after the fact", after the brain has already sent the signal to the limbs to act ("Cortical Activation in Conscious and Unconscious Experience", 1965). Michael Gazzaniga at Cornell University popularized this notion in his book "Social Brain" (1985): an "interpreter" in the brain makes sense of the decisions that the other brain modules have made, and that interpreter is your consciousness.
I am not in control of my actions, hence don't blame me if i commit a crime. The law specifically relieves people of responsibility and liability when it can be proven that they were not in control of their actions. Where is my free will? St Agustine grappled with the same problem in the context of an omnipotent and infinitely good God: if God created the sinner and God decides everything that happens in the universe, why should we blame the sinners for their sins? It is not trivial to prove free will once you assume that external forces determine our behavior.
For those interested in the debate whether the universe is fully deterministic or not, check out the various philosophical theories about the implications of the randomness of quantum mechanics (e.g. in my book "Thinking about Thought"), and don't forget that randomness is often just a measure of our ignorance.
"You are not controlling the storm, and you are not lost in it. You are the storm" (Sam Harris)
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