28 April 2004


Perhaps you're not familiar with Jaron Lanier's famous One Half of a Manifesto.
If computers are to become smart enough to design their own successors, initiating a process that will lead to God-like omniscience after a number of ever swifter passages from one generation of computers to the next, someone is going to have to write the software that gets the process going, and humans have given absolutely no evidence of being able to write such software.
There has often been a tender, but unintended humor in the argumentative writing by advocates of eventual computer sentience. The quest to rationally prove the possibility of sentience in a computer (or perhaps in the internet), is the modern version of proving God's existence. As is the case with the history of God, a great many great minds have spent excesses of energy on this quest, and eventually a cybernetically-minded 21st century version of Kant will appear in order to present a tedious ''proof'' that such adventures are futile. I simply don't have the patience to be that person.
Another avenue of explanation might be neo-Freudian, considering that the primary inventor of the idea of machine sentience, Alan Turing, was such a tortured soul. Turing died in an apparent suicide brought on by his having developed breasts as a result of enduring a hormonal regimen intended to reverse his homosexuality. It was during this tragic final period of his life that he argued passionately for machine sentience, and I have wondered whether he was engaging in a highly original new form of psychological escape and denial; running away from sexuality and mortality by becoming a computer.

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