The A.I. Frontier

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


Philosophy of Mind: Brains, Consciousness, and Thinking Machines

Written by: The Great Courses

Narrated by: Professor Patrick Grim


Patrick Grim cogently describes the frontier of artificial intelligence in “Philosophy of Mind”. The concluding lectures argue that the closest we have come to defining consciousness is the “Hot (acronym for higher-order-theory) Theory” proposed by David Rosenthal. Though Grim has reservations about Rosenthal’s concept, he suggests it is the nearest functional definition with an inferential suggestion that computers can pass a Turing test.


To back up a bit—Grim goes through the history of mind-body theories from Aristotle through modern times.  Grim tries to answer the question–What is consciousness?

History shows philosophical theories of mind revolve around duality, materiality, thought, and in more modern times, functionality.  Some theorist postulate consciousness is made up of the relationship between mind and body.

Some others believe in a yet-to-be-identified physiological building block that provides consciousness, and others theorize nothing material exists except in the mind of the perceiver.  Still others suggest consciousness is the cognitive relationship between the material world and the mind.  Grim suggests Rosenthal’s idea of consciousness as functionality comes closer to the mark.


The import of all these theories becomes eminently important when Alan Turing suggested–It seems probable that once machine thinking started, it will not take long to outstrip our feeble power— They will be able to converse with each other to sharpen their wits. Turing suggests, “At some stage, we should expect machines to take control.” To many, this is a threat to humanity; to others it is the hope of humanity.

To Turing, the turning point will be when human beings are unable to distinguish between human to human conversation and machine to human conversation; i.e. that is the Turing Test.  To date, the test has not been passed.  Grim implies Turing is not concerned about whether computers will ever become conscious or not.  To Turing consciousness is beside the point of a machine being able to surpass human capabilities.  The fact that computers show the capability of exceeding human abilities in some areas proves Turing’s point; without being able to pass the Turing test.

Grim does not believe computers will ever have consciousness that achieves awareness by the mind (a CPU in the case of machines), of itself, and the world.

  He does not think machines will ever be able to comprehend their being-ness.  Grim suggests only a living thing will have a sense of being itself based on its form, learned experience, and function.  Grim somewhat hedges that belief with Rosenthal’s concept of consciousness as self-awareness which incorporates both material being and mental function.  To Grim, there is no building block or Lego piece that will be discovered for consciousness.  Without that type of elemental discovery, Grim is skeptical about human being’s ability to create conscious machines.

To some, Grim’s argument is superfluous.  Considering Turing’s 1940’s observation, consciousness is an unnecessary computer accoutrement.  To someone like Ray Kurzweil, technology is on the verge of discovering the building blocks of consciousness; in fact, Kurzweil suggests some computers already have some level of consciousness.

Whatever the answer is about computer consciousness, little question remains about the impact computers have had, and are having in the world.  Quantum computing adds another dimension for potential computer consciousness.

Professor Grim’s lectures are excellent.  He provides a clear explanation of the history of “…Mind: Brains, Consciousness, and Thinking Machines.”

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