Caring Bytes

Determinism is an ages old debate in philosophy involving deep elements of freewill and morality. Now Artificial Intelligence has raised the debate to a different, if not a new, level. While we struggle to understand the human mind and the brain-body functions of ourselves and our domestic and laboratory animals, what is being done with massive computational powers and globally connected systems of stored and accessible data is mind blowing indeed. It is changing our world and rapidly. Should we care?

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a treasure trove with hundreds of article pages attempting to untangle the threads of philosophical thought on the issues involved in our moral choices. David Hume, according to Timothy O’Conner and Christopher Franklin, emphasized that freewill is not only compatible with determinism but actually requires determinism. That, in itself, will leave plenty to sort out.

The notion that animals, including human animals, are, at their base not free; that we and they are algorithms has been advocated by contemporary authors including Daniel Dennett and Yael Harari. Harari closes his book, Homo Deus, with a question leaving the answer open for continuing debate. Advances in Artificial Intelligence or AI have certainly accelerated the arguments favoring the affirmation of animals being neural networks capable of collecting and processing massive amounts of information. Accommodation is typically made in the argument for the complexity of the human brain and nervous system in order to acknowledge some measures of ignorance, but nevertheless, every advance in computational complexity seems to favor a model of brain complexity mimicking computer complexity. The computational models for the mind are widely favored and accepted in philosophical and cognitive psychology circles. After all, even super computers are simple enough to have been conceived and manufactured piece-by-piece by a relatively small team of human architects. It’s just computer science, stupid.

Indeed some seemingly very bright evolutionary psychologists are among those with the most intellectual affinity for the computational models of mind. The closer these psychologists and philosopers are to MIT the stronger and more tenacious their arguments become. East and West Coast enclaves seem to compete for supremacy in the advancement of AI. It never ceases to amaze how many of the West Coast ventures are the result of Cambridge students preference for California weather.

Now the Oracle of AI has found good political and financial weather in and around Beijing. Kai-Fu Lee studied economics and computer science in the USA before returning to China. There, with massive support from the Communist regime, Lee has raised $ billions for AI startup firms. With many engineers trained in the US, these firms are advancing AI in spectacular fashion to support education in China. Lee’s passion and project seems well founded in a commitment to personalization of teaching and learning. It should be no source of amusement and amazement that AI in education is a signal that someone cares. Massive computing and data storage may be our best key to caring. That is not to say that the computer cares. It certainly does not care and cannot care. In fact it has no feeling to enable caring. It executes a reliable algorithm.

Now, of course, we are confronted with whether a caring human is also an algorithm. What builds caring into the nervous systems of some humans and not others? We have much to learn. The architect, evolution, is not around to explain the parts.