“Scientists create life. We are God” part 2

Posted on May 26, 2010 by Matt

On to the content of the news story I mentioned in my last web entry. Is this indeed an act of creating life or even a precursor for artificial intelligence? The answer to both of these questions is no. First of all, AI has already been demonstrated to be untenable, John Searle demonstrates this with his famous thought experiment on the subject:

Imagine a native English speaker who knows no Chinese locked in a room full of boxes of Chinese symbols (a data base) together with a book of instructions for manipulating the symbols (the program). Imagine that people outside the room send in other Chinese symbols, which, unknown to the person in the room, are questions in Chinese (the input). And imagine that by following the instructions in the program the man in the room is able to pass out Chinese symbols, which are correct answers to the questions (the output). The program enables the person in the room to pass the Turing Test for understanding Chinese but he does not understand a word of Chinese.

Searle goes on to explain that the man in the room is similar to a computer. While computers process information at an incredible rate, this does not entail they have the capacity to think about what they process. Artificial life, in order for it to be what most consider real, would have to not only produce inputs and outputs, but have thoughts on those inputs and outputs, or rather participate in a function found only in humans, the use of second order mental states. Second order mental states are essentially thoughts about thoughts. It would be impossible for a machine to do this. Indeed a machine could evaluate evidence and determine probabilities concerning various outcomes, but this is hardly second order mental states. I should note however, that in time, machines, or androids, or a type of AI could become so anthropomorphized that they are barely distinguishable from humans, but this hardly means a true artificial intelligence, but rather very clever and careful programming.

Back to the article. While there are some possibly very intriguing uses concerning the science mentioned in the article this is in no way creating life. Essentially this is more like the photocopying of a cell. The process includes, taking existing DNA, sequencing it, rebuilding and programing it, and  placing the DNA into an existing live cell and watching it grow according to how it was programmed. Now, I am not intending to diminish this fascinating work, but in no way is this creating life, it is merely the rearranging of created life.

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