Friday, July 1, 2011

Got a Question? Got an Answer?

This week on Between You and Me we're working off the premise that TOGETHER WE KNOW EVERYTHING.  At least in the KAXE community that is.  Time and time again when we pose a question to our audience, we find the answers.  Got something you've been dying to ask?  Join us Saturday morning from 12-noon.  Here's a sneak into Steve Downing's essay for Saturday morning

by Steve Downing

Here’s a question I need help with: will computers ever be conscious? I just cannot answer this, and not for lack of trying. Maybe if we all put our heads together we’ll come up with something.
            We have to start with a definition of conscious, I suppose. I first worked on this more than three decades ago, after the Princeton psychologist Julian Jaynes published his seminal runaway best-seller, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. You’ll recall Jaynes’s core theory, that until only 3000 years ago humans didn’t reason as we do today, meaning they weren’t truly conscious and had zero capacity for introspection. They merely responded to auditory hallucinations; i.e., voices of the gods, which they processed the same way folks in the Iliad and Old Testament processed voices of the gods. The voices told people what to do, especially when life got stressful. That’s how things got done.
            Not every critic---never mind every psychologist---loved this idea. I didn’t understand the neurobiology, biochemistry or philology involved (and much else besides), but what I did like was that here was a proposal that attempted to explain why humans behaved so fabulously irrationally for so long. All those archaic tortured theologies, counterproductive warfare, relentless self-abuse. The two hemispheres of the human brain weren’t communicating yet, and, because just about every situation was a new one (read: stressful), right-brain thinking was calling most of the shots. That’s a handicap, between you and me.
            Then we invented language, as well as novel ways to wreak havoc upon one another, seriously ratcheting up the stress levels, and eventually we faced the choice of becoming either conscious or extinct. Fortuitously, uncharacteristically, we chose consciousness. Then we became rational. The left hemisphere of the brain was finally fully engaged with the right.
            And that’s how we evolved to our current high level of achievement. No more tortured theologies. No more counterproductive warfare. No more relentless self-abuse.
            I see I was asking the wrong question. More to the point: would computers deploy consciousness any more effectively than we have?

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