Home' Technology Review : September October 2007 Contents Letters
TECHNOLOGY REVIEW /
I ve been following the virtual world
called Second Life for some time, so it
was a pleasure to read Wade Roush s
thoughtful and intelligent cover story
("Second Earth," July/August 2007).
The piece bene ted greatly from the
fact that your writer entered into the
life of the community he was trying to
I m sure you ll receive some sple-
netic, sarcastic criticism of the piece
from someone disgusted by the very
idea of a Second Life. Unlike Roush,
though, your critic will almost certainly
have spent no time in acquiring one.
In his essay arguing against the possi-
bility of producing conscious machines
("Arti cial Intelligence Is Lost in the
Woods," July/August 2007), is Yale
computer science professor David
Gelernter arguing against artificial
intelligence or artificial humanity?
Intelligence does not require all the
human interactions with the world or
emotions that he lists, unless there is
a particular need to provide those for
the intended application.
Consciousness is hard to de ne.
Maybe someone should make a
replacement for the Turing test, Alan
Turing s suggestion that if a computer
can answer questions the same way a
human would, then it can be consid-
ered intelligent. A Helen Keller test,
perhaps: it may be possible, after all,
that there is or will be a computer in
existence that is conscious, but for
whom we have not provided the means
for input or output that it would need
to signal to us that it is conscious. Or
maybe it s speaking "Chinese" to an
"English" world or broadcasting radio
to a television world.
I think we d better find a more
general concept of consciousness than
Gelernter s so that, at a minimum,
we ll recognize that aliens have landed
if they ever do.
Stanley D. Young
Fort Collins, CO
I side with the anticognitivists (and
thus David Gelernter). AI software
running on von Neumann machines
will never be conscious, and without
consciousness there can be no experi-
ence, human or other wise. Believing
that somehow consciousness will arise
like a deus ex machina on your Pen-
tium is an article of religious faith.
Still, while AI software cannot rep-
licate consciousness, networks of arti-
cial neurons have considerably more
promise. Consider machines being
built by Kwabena Boahen s group at
Stanford or earlier by Car ver Mead s
student Misha Mahowald at Caltech.
There are also hybrids in which real
neural circuits are emulated in very
large-scale integration (VLSI): Paul
Rhodes s group at Evolved Machines
in Palo Alto is working on that, as is
Theodore Berger s group at the Uni-
versity of Southern California.
Digital computers are so second
millennium. As my MIT classmate
Ray Kurzweil might say, "Plug that sili-
con retina into your optic ner ve, and
you won t know the di erence."
Menlo Park, CA
Your design-focused May/June 2007
issue was very interesting and thought-
provoking, but I think it missed an
opportunity to focus attention on the
most per vasive problems of electronic-
Several experts and writers equated
operational simplicity with minimal
functions, and several cited the iPod
as an example of gaining simplicity
by avoiding feature creep. But the
history of the iPod is feature creep
itself. It started out as a music player.
Now it plays music, podcasts, video,
and games; it can act as a stopwatch
or alarm clock, show you the time in
other world cities, maintain your con-
tacts and calendar, show photos, allow
you to read text les, and ser ve as a
backup hard drive. Why does it remain
simple to use? Because all the func-
tions work the same way. The user
needs to learn only one rule about the
interface and can apply it to every func-
tion on the device.
Point Roberts, WA
Changing Human Nature
I read with interest the essay by phi-
losopher Roger Scr uton ("The Trouble
with Knowledge," May/June 2007),
since I enjoy seeing things in new ways
and respect philosophers for their
penetrating insight and clear logic. But
I found neither in Scruton s piece.
Scruton fears that future technology
will enable men and machines to inter-
act in increasingly intimate ways and
eventually merge to the degree that
human nature itself is altered. He is
ter ri ed of this possibility.
But what, exactly, is so great about
human nature that he is so scared of
its changing? One need only read a
newspaper to see, not only that human
nature is deeply awed, but also that it
is human nature not to need a reason
to believe something that makes you
feel good; it is human nature to believe
whatever superstitions you were taught
as a child. Scr uton certainly seems to.
When he starts to mention God, and
refers to the Fall of Adam, I suspect that
nobody is going to get much of a clear
and rational discussion from him.
East Boothbay, ME
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