Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Why AI Won't Work

.... And what that has to do with the price of tea in China.

See a few posts down, where I say I'm going to post a paper about gay marriage? It's taking a while, and here's where I explain that.

This past Sunday, there was a Defend Marriage rally in a downtown park. Basically Christian and Muslim leaders speaking to a fairly large crowd (2-3000, apparently) about why gay marriage will destroy western civilization. Off to the side, there was a group of protestors waving signs like "Love like Jesus would!" or "Equal rights for all!".

The "Love like Jesus would" one was especially interesting. It makes clear how wide the divide between the two groups is. Even though both sides use the same language, making claims to legal rights and ideals like love, the thought process behind the claims is very differant. There's a lot going on under the hood, so to speak.

So here's where I do my best to explain another pestilent European philosopher. Martin Heidegger wrote in dense, obscure prose about things that have become the cliche image of philosophers, like "what is the meaning of being?" To make this terribly simple, Heidegger was arguing against some of the most basic and fundemental assumptions of the last 2000 years of philosophy. The reigning model was based on Descartes; Descartes basically argued that our minds existed independantly of the world. We peer out through our eye sockets at the world, making independant judgements and living quite seperately from everything else. Hell, this tradition even has a hard time proving the existence of the outside world.

In Heidegger's giant, almost impossible to read book Being and Time he dismantles Descartes' tradition, arguing instead that we are beings-in-the-world. To horribly oversimplify, we are constantly interpreting ourselves into the world, encountering tools and other people, all for the purpose of various projects. Think of your experience as a Russian nesting doll. I am using this keyboard for the project of typing a blog post for the project of organizing my thoughts for the project of earning a philosophical education... etc, etc. All of the simple little tasks we carry out in daily life are actually connected to everything else in our lives in a huge spidery web, and the vast majority of this is pre-reflective. Not quite unconscious - we just don't think about it. It's all in the background.

One of the more interesting applications of Heidegger's work is to artificial intelligence. In the 1970s, some guy whose name I don't remember wrote about the difficulties the project of AI was having from a Heideggarian point of view. He talked about the assumption behind AI - that intelligence can be broken down into managible pieces and ultimatelty digitized. This has never worked, of course. We can program computers to beat us at chess, which IS a matter of problems being broken down and digitized. Deep Blue can kick Gary Kasporov's ass at chess - but Deep Blue is helpless to set up a chess board from a jumbled mess of pieces. Why? Because Deep Blue is not being-in-the-world. It can't engage in the Russian nesting doll structure of projects; it has no pre-reflective structures through which it can understand the world. Remember my example of the pawn from below?

Sigh. So what does this have to do with gay marriage? That simple slogan - "Love as Jesus would" - might be made up of words that both sides understand on a surface level, but each side (each individual, more accurately) has a huge body of pre-reflective knowledge that they bring to bare. Hence why the Defend Marriage types could say "we ARE loving as Jesus would, OBVIOUSLY!" and the destroy-western-civilization types could say "You aren't, OBVIOUSLY!"

There's a lot more to the dynamics of interpretation, sure. But I offer this post as justification for my long winded build up to a discussion of gay marriage.

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