I finally managed to watch Ex-Machina a couple of weeks ago and thought it was outstanding. In this film, Nathan, the genius CEO of search-company Bluebook invites his most talented programmer Caleb to his home, a secret base out in the wilderness and far from the nearest human habitation.Caleb was selected to be the human participant in Turing test with Nathan’s newest robotic creation, Ava.
I studied artificial intelligence as a psychology student back in the late 80s and early 90s. While I still remember the first time I loaded up Mosaic, the web browser on my PC at BT Laboratories for the first time, and been connected to the exponential rise in web technologies, I have always been curious about the slow advancement of AI in comparison.
As the first-generation of smart phones began to be developed in the mid-90s, all tech talk was of “intelligent agents” but this phase in the development of the web has largely receded into our distant memories. Of course algorithms are now surging with a vengeance, but when my wife’s Mac stubbornly refuses to open the Keynote presentation sent her using the same operating system and same version of software, sometimes I do exasperatedly ask if we are still further behind than we really think we are.
The Turing test in Ex-Machina is not pure in that Caleb already knows that Ava is a robot, and so the test becomes an exploration of consciousness and empathic relating. While some researchers and philosophers of AI and consciousness may disagree, I do feel that we are still far from solving the hard problem of consciousness.
But more than this, we are also far from being able to provide accounts of experience, and the way in which we may all be humans, but may have very distant experiences of reality, especially the primary mode of experiencing reality – thinking, feeling, sensing and intuition.
Underlying these ways of knowing reality is the way we experience and thinking about Being, and this is a discourse I find mainly lacking in the more pressing debate around the introduction of manual robots into the world of work. For answers I feel that we need to call upon the services of Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900 – 2002).
Hans George Gadamer lived to be 102 years old. As a student of Plato, his first major work was his unpublished doctoral thesis written in 1922. His final works on Plato were published in 1991, with some of the essays being written in 1990.
During this period, Gadamer would interpret Plato hermeneutically, and he did so by starting with some of Plato’s final dialogues such as Parmenides, Thaeatetus, Sophist, Statesman and Philebus, and took the view that Plato was not changing or correcting his view, but constructing these dialogues to correct any previous ambiguities or misunderstandings in his earlier works.
For this reverse and unconventional interpretation of Plato, Gadamer came to the conclusion that in fact the Ideas – Being and non-Being, identity and difference, the Good, the beautiful, the true and the one – were not the centre of Plato’s thought, and neither were they discrete entities:
Gadamer thinks of Platonic Ideas as a nexus or web of ideal relationships, which are internally connected to each other in inseparable ways and at many different levels. Ideas are like strands of thread in woven cloth. They exist and function like strands, i.e. like Ideas, only in their interconnectedness in the warp and woof of the fabric.
Brice Wachterhauser, Beyond Being, p67
While we have become interconnected technologically in an unprecedented manner in our current age, this has not meant that we have become ever more interwoven ethically and ecologically as a society, as a people, discovering wholeness in our lived experiences here on earth. Wachterhauser really paints an extremely vivid image of the implications of Plato’s web of meaning in this following passage:
On this model, what it means to think, the meaning of thought itself, involves entering this “fabric” of relations – of “un-weaving and reweaving” the cloth – in order to discover how these various strands are individually and collectively related to each other. Such thinking involves “interpretation,” because it is never a wordless intuition of the whole.
The multidimensional nexus of relationships, with which such ideal aspects of reality present us, can only be unravelled a few threads at a time. Thus our understanding of reality is always a selective analysis and explanation, a partial “un-weaving and reweaving” of various parts of the fabric. It is in other words, nothing but “interpretation”.
Brice Wachterhauser, Beyond Being, p68
Plato is teaching us what it really means to be human. Life is a constant exploration and search for meaning. We live inside this incredible web of relationships, and no matter how intricate the algorithm, I just wonder if only a Plato could have the insights into the nature of being, before we create a being capable of exploring its own being in the world.