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The Borg or Borges?

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It is a paradox of the work of Artificial Intelligence that in order to grant consciousness to machines, the engineers first labour to subtract it from humans, as they work to foist upon philosophers a caricature of consciousness in the digital switches of weights and gates in neural nets. As the caricature goes into public circulation with the help of the media, it becomes an acceptable counterfeit currency, and the humanistic philosopher of mind soon finds himself replaced by the robotics scientist. This atmospheric inversion from above to below, one in which a sky turns into the smog of a thickened air, happened once before in the world of knowledge, when Comtian positivism inspired a functionalist approach to the study of the sacred. The social scientists first said that in order to study the sacred, one had to study how it functioned in society; then having contributed to the growth of their own academic domain, they more confidently claimed that what humans worshipped with the sacred was, in fact, their own society. There simply was no such thing as God or the sacred, and so Schools of Divinity began to be eclipsed by the elevation of the new towers of the office buildings of the Social Sciences. Indeed, as I turn now away from my computer screen, I can see outside my window the William James Building of Social Relations competing for dominance of the skyline with the Victorian brick Gothic of Harvard's Memorial Hall. This clever move to eliminate the phenomenological reality of human consciousness as a prelude to the growth of a new robotics industry is a very successful scam, for it has helped enormously with the task of fund-raising for costly moon shots, such as the Japanese government's 'Fifth Generation Computer Project' which promised to create an autonomously thinking machine in the 1980s. No one seems to talk much anymore about the failure of this project, but the gurus of A.I. continue to prophesy - as Ray Kurzweil now does - that by 2030, humans will be surpassed by machines in cultural evolution.

Document Type: Research Article

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Publication date: 2003-01-01

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