“In a sense intelligence is the wrong word. Intelligence is a human attribute, but these are just computers. They’re doing exactly what they’ve been programmed to do.” source
Several times here at Catholic Answers Forums, I’ve seen people post questions about artificial intelligence and its implications for Catholic philosophy. In classic Catholic philosophy, intelligence is spiritual, not physical, an ability of the human soul that cannot be reproduced by physical systems. Since artificial intelligence has recently made leaps and bounds, some people are wondering if computers can eventually have human-level intelligence. This has even been put in the form of an objection to the spiritual: you Catholics always say that intelligence is spiritual, and therefore humans have a spiritual soul; but science has almost proven that physical systems can be intelligent too, so there goes one more argument for the soul!
As apologists, I think we need to develop resources to answer this kind of objection. And one of those resources may come from the above quote. It comes from Jonathan Schaeffer, an AI researcher. He’s not a nobody, either: his work has been so influential in modern AI research that the government of Canada has made him a national Chairman in Artificial Intelligence according to Wikipedia.
In the article I cited at the beginning of this thread, he was commenting on Google’s latest AI success: their DeepMind project has successfully beaten a top-level human at Go, which is arguably the most complex strategy game ever created.
This can help us show that modern AI researchers do not think they are replicating human intelligence. They are copying the brain in order to program their machines more intelligently, but this influential researcher emphasizes that the most sophisticated AI concepts are aiming at something different from human intelligence. They’re not just Beneath human intelligence, they are a different kind of thing altogether.
He’s not the only researcher to mention something like this. “Dr Simon Stringer, director of the Oxford Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence, said that AlphaGo and other deep learning systems are good at specific tasks - be that spotting objects or animals in photos or mastering a game. But these systems work very differently from the human brain and shouldn’t be viewed as representing progress towards developing a general, human-like intelligence.” source
Dr. Stringer apparently thinks that physical systems could theoretically have human-level intelligence, which makes him a witness for other side as well as ours. But he does point out that the best of modern AI research is well within the boundaries of typical computer programming and is not a low form of human-level intelligence.
If and when we ever talk to people about the spiritual nature of intelligence, we may soon find that people will start bringing up artificial intelligence as a counterpoint. They might ask about it because it troubles them and makes them think human intelligence is nothing special. In those occasions, it will be useful to have testimonies like these to show that we’re talking about different things and the best modern researchers know that.