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Why people beat computers: “It’s not being biological that helps, it’s being an agent …”

A friend writes, regarding a comment in an earlier news post on how humans are better than computers at guessing disease gene patterns.

News wrote: This story somehow got lost around here last week. Anyway, it makes sense that humans would do better than computers at guessing biology issues. It helps to be biological.

It’s not being biological that helps, it’s being an agent; all computer algorithms that ever have or ever will exist are the antithesis of agents. Being something utterly different, agency cannot be reduced to IF-THEN-ELSE.

Friend is probably right, come to think of it.

A sponge is entirely biological, but cannot do any intellectual work.

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11 Responses to Why people beat computers: “It’s not being biological that helps, it’s being an agent …”

  1. This is a topic concerning which I have some expertise, having written an AI computer program that has no further meaningful human competition. This is the case in the game of chess as well, and in the game of Jeopardy, as evidenced by IBM Watson’s trouncing of the two best human Jeopardy players.

    Despite these successes in AI software engineering, the observation that “being something utterly different, agency cannot be reduced to IF-THEN-ELSE” is certainly true.

    The success of the computer programs mentioned above is based on massive computational brute force, coupled with extremely clever human-engineered search algorithms and evaluation functions.

    These programs are quintessentially mindless and contain no vestige of agency, although they give the appearance of autonomous intelligence. The only real intelligence contained in them is human intelligence, infused through human agency.

  2. Puh-lease. As if humans don’t have complex algorithms determining their actions. Every time you think you are rationally deliberating something, your brain is really just searching its databases for past experiences relating to your current circumstances, and using a pair of scales toweigh up and determinee the best course of actio. So although we feel from experience that we are actively doing the “choosing”, the truth is that there is only one choice for us to make. We are perfectly free to choose one option only. Free will is not a mystery. The mystery is consciousness, or why we “feel” anything at all.

  3. 3

    lol

    tragic mishapMarch 20, 2012 at 7:37 am

    It helps to have the ability to make choices and rewrite your own programming on the fly.

  4. 4

    Choice of course being the unique quality of agency.

  5. 5

    ThoughtSpark: “Puh-lease. As if humans don’t have complex algorithms determining their actions.”

    Sparky, people like you never cease to amaze me. You say stuff like this with the air of someone quoting incontrovertible fact. Yet the truth is that you have absolutely no evidence for what you say. Moreover, your statement is almost certainly false. That you should say this makes me think you are not clear on what an algorithm is.

  6. As if humans don’t have complex algorithms determining their actions.

    “Your Honor, my client just has a faulty algorithm”

    Free will is not a mystery.

    No, it’s a cool song by Rush.

  7. Barry-

    Think about it- you can call it the “ThoughtSpark” defense

    “It’s not my client’s fault, there was a mutation that messed up his/her algorithm”

  8. “Your honour, my client just has a faulty algorithm.” Damn right he does! I am well aware of the implications that neuroscience’s onslaught against free will has for the Law. But that would not mean that murderers would walk the streets based on the fact that they “had no choice in the matter,” no control over what they were doing. Not at all. We would put such people in institutions “Broken” members of society need to be… err, thrown away. Or rather, removing them from society.

  9. Typo, removed from society*

  10. Just institute eugenics. The mutations didit….

  11. Not eugenics Joe. Prison! Mental asylums! The way it’s always been done. Why do ID folk have to be such alarmists? I repeat, murderers will NOT walk the streets when free will goes down. His lawyer can say what he likes about the client not being truly responsible or guilty of the murder, but the judge will say “then what is to stop this man from killing again, if not free will?” It’s almost worse for the killer. If we are skeptical of his ability to change because we realise that his biology and not “him” is making the choices, we will be far more reluctant to let him free.

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