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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Minsky on philosophy of consciousness

Although I enjoyed many parts of Minsky's talk, and wasn't all that bothered by the technical problems, I have to agree with Shimon that Minsky was perhaps a little too dismissive of philosophers of consciousness/mind. He is certainly right that the word "consciousness" has come to have too many meanings. But I believe that there *is* something mysterious about the problem of "qualia," or what "it is like" to have a certain experience. Whether this has any implications for the building of an intelligent agent, I'm not sure (although I think it might). But I certainly think it is a valid philosophical problem. Now, as one astute member of the audience already pointed out (and Minsky agreed), there are philosophers that in fact seem to agree with Minsky, such as Daniel Dennett. Moreover, I imagine that these philosophers are just as dismissive of each other in person as Minsky was of them (but I have never met them so I cannot be sure). Nevertheless, for an AI audience in which many people are perhaps less aware of these issues than they should be, such an attitude is somewhat inappropriate because the philosophers aren't there (and perhaps never will be) to defend themselves -- while Minsky knows how to tickle our AI bones by suggesting something like (I'm severely paraphrasing here!!!) "let these other people theorize; we're actually BUILDING these systems and by doing so will find out more directly what the real issues are." This argument has some definite validity in many subareas of AI, although usually the AI researchers (at least eventually) also realize that they can learn a lot from the existing research in another field. (For example, in my own area -- AI and economics -- AI researchers are becoming more and more informed by existing economics research, which has definitely, definitely improved the research.) I would suggest that, if we really want to discuss philosophy of mind, which I think would be good, that we invite some of the leading philosophers on the subject to a conference. Anyone care to agree with me?


Anonymous mentifex said...

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9:38 AM  
Blogger Jystar said...

I agree that considering the views of philosophers in AI is beneficial if not important. However, AAAI seems to be much more about implementation than about philosophical approaches to AI. There have been limited exchanges, such as Aaron Sloman's symposium on philosophy and AI at IJCAI-95, but establishing some regular discourse between these two communities would be very beneficial for all parties involved.

4:11 PM  
Anonymous slawek said...

I could have of course completely misunderstood Prof. Minsky's point, but I read his critics of philosophers purely in context of building AI agents. I don't imagine he was criticising their work in their own field, but rather the opinion some people seem to have that philosophical ideas/theories should be uncritically applied to the field of AI.

With that I (partially) agree, although of course YMMV.

7:35 AM  
Blogger Jystar said...

I've had some further thoughts about Minsky's talk and a few other things, which I've posted on my blog at http://numinoria.blogspot.com/. Check it out and let me know what you think.

1:15 AM  
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