Thursday, April 29, 1999

Systems of intelligence

29th April, 1999. John Searle appears on the radio to discuss his recent New York Review article.

Old questions: "Are machines more intelligent than people? Can computers have self-consciousness and freewill?"

Some people might ask: How intelligent are people anyway? Can people have self-consciousness and freewill? (Common sense notions of consciousness and freewill are undermined by both psychoanalysis and hypnotism.)

I'd prefer to ask a different set of questions. What kinds of system can have such (emergent) properties as intelligence, self-consciousness and freewill?

People and computers alike display intelligent behaviour in some contexts, and not in others. People and computers alike depend on a complex support network. A person's ability to solve certain puzzles depends on various cultural factors. A computer's ability to beat a Grandmaster at chess depends on a team of chess experts and skilled programmers.

People and computers seem increasingly disembodied, fragmented.

A person is not just a mass of organic material, but also a mass of characteristic ideas, thoughts and feelings, expressed in words or acted out, distributed across diaries and letters, or captured in the memories and interpretations of other people. My name is held on countless databases, with various fragments of information about me, and embossed on several pieces of plastic card. No doubt much of this information is incorrect, incomplete or out-of-date.

What appears to be a self-contained computer may be merely a fa├žade, providing access to a distributed network of other machines and systems.

Children of competitive middle-class parents are increasingly being subjected to additional training, including IQ coaching, in order to get high scores on various tests - perhaps to win places and scholarships to elite schools, or perhaps simply because it is thought to be a worthy activity in its own right. But what is being tested here, what do the tests really reveal? - the brain-power of the child, the skill of the coach, or the enthusiasm and resources of the parents?

What appears to be a self-contained child may be merely a test-scoring system. But if we reduce our children to test-scoring systems, if we reduce our schools to test-scoring-system improvement systems, where's the intelligence in that?

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