It’s remarkable how the idea of artificial intelligence (intelligence free of nature) meets some of the needs of the chattering classes of our culture. A New Scientist writer flirts with the idea that we will one day be able to marry intelligent robots, explaining, “Perhaps our evolving knowledge of the biology of love – as a brain state mediated by neurochemicals that evolved to increase reproductive success … will make society more understanding.”

Notice the unquestioning assumption that love “evolved to increase reproductive success,” enlisted in support of the marry-a-robot idea. Many of us underestimate the extent to which concepts derived from Darwinian evolution can help shape eccentric movements.

If we think love “evolved” by natural selection acting on random mutations to increase reproductive success, we lose track of the idea that love is first of all a relationship between human beings; getting a robot programmed to act like it loves us is narcissism, the opposite of love.

Of course, this writer may be kidding. These days, it is hard to tell. The Japanese are not kidding about carebots, and many are not kidding about doctorbots or lawyerbots.

But maybe the robot won’t love you anyway. It won’t, if physicist Louis Del Monte, profiled at Business Insider is correct: By 2045, he says:

… machines will become self-conscious and have the capabilities to protect themselves. They “might view us the same way we view harmful insects.”

So we die? Never mind, thousands of nerds hope to cheat death through AI, by creating digital copies of themselves, so that not-yet-invented software can upload them into an artificial body in the future. Will the files be conscious? Be them?

Such scenarios depend in part on the assumption that a machine can be conscious. Yet the wretched state of consciousness studies makes it very difficult to examine the question seriously.

Cognitive researcher George Lakoff, for example, insists that artificial intelligences cannot be conscious, not because they lack enough intelligence but because they lack bodies that experience things: “Computers can run models of neural processes, he says, but absent bodily experience, those models will never actually be conscious.” That “kills” AI.

Not so fast: MIT’s Rodney Brooks, while agreeing, proposes to provide computers with bodies, which would be good news for New Scientist and maybe bad news for the mind files nerds. How do they know the machnes will co-operate with their immortality project and not snuff them out?

Interestingly, the film exploring the idea of a “humanchine,” Transcendence, tanked at the box office.

I don’t think any of it will happen. Other events will intervene.


Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...