Religion, Science

Artificial Intelligence and the Spirit in Man

There is currently no consensus on how closely...

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Just thought I’d throw a question out today and see what come of it. :) Even since I learned BASIC back when everyone was raving about the Apple IIe, I’ve been fascinated by artificial intelligence. I longed to enter a BASIC version of the ELIZA program I had found in a book into my Commodore 64 but held back because I didn’t have any permanent storage in the early days and loathed the idea of all that code disappearing when my computer was turned off. (I eventually got that great little “tape recorder” data storage device and, wonder of wonders, an actual floppy disk drive some time later.)

I believe that the Church is absolutely right about the spirit in man: that the human mind is a product of both the physical brain and the human spirit granted by God, and that if something is wrong with either necessary component, physical or spiritual, then the mind is affected. I wrote about this for the Tomorrow’s World magazine here: “Mystery of the Mind”. (Note for those to whom this is new: not an immortal soul, but an immaterial spirit. They are not the same.)

Of course, the reductive, materialistic naturalism that passes for science these days stresses that the spirit in man–indeed, “mind” itself as it is generally understood–is an illusion and that we are simply the product of purely physical processes, determined by physical law and without true free will. (Though there is evidence that this is false, including “downward causation” from mind to brain.)

Now, while most scientists I have read–at least concerning modern research–have come to see that the brain is not simply an “advanced computer” but is very different. However, it is still hoped that computers can be used to model the brain, even by mimicking its own structure, such that intelligence, and even consciousness, is achieved.

So, here’s the question(s)… Does the truth about “human mind” equaling “physical brain plus spirit in man” mean that the attempts to achieve artificial intelligence that is indistinguishable from human intelligence is doomed to failure? If you think so, how would we expect the progression of such work to go and how would its destined failure begin to manifest itself in results? And if you think not–that is, if you think it is still possible for artificial intelligence to be created in the future that will be indistinguishable from human intelligence (as many scientists, of course, expect to be able to do), what would be the implications for understanding the spirit in man?

I’ve got my own thoughts on such research, but I’d like to hear yours. :) Have a wonderful Sabbath!

About Wallace G. Smith

Pastor for the Living Church of God (www.lcg.org) and a presenter on the Tomorrow's World television program (www.tomorrowsworld.org).

Discussion

25 thoughts on “Artificial Intelligence and the Spirit in Man

  1. God forbid! The human brain is so easily corrupted, how horrific a future we would have if A.I. were indistinguishable from human intelligence. It brings to mind the movie “The Terminator” where machines took over the world.

    Posted by Robin Hazen (@binski07) | January 11, 2013, 2:05 pm
  2. I never underestimate the ability to eventually perform function approximation to sufficiently low error. At every stage, we may be able to say, “Here’s the area where the error is maximum. Look here and you’ll see the difference.” Then, one of us meddling engineers will come up with a fitting scheme for that area. (Of course, we must have the assumption that our error must be calculable… meaning that we’re necessarily interpreting “spirit in man” qualities through a “function filter”… because, otherwise, what criteria do we use for our comparison in the first place?)

    At the end of the day, we don’t learn a whole lot about the question of reductionism from how well we can approximate functions. The only problem is that there isn’t another readily apparent avenue of addressing the question without begging.

    Posted by Mike | January 11, 2013, 2:34 pm
  3. In my view it is the spirit in man that separates man from animals and enables man to have the superior intellect that he has (1 Cor 2:11). If a physical brain alone could accomplish the intellect of man then it begs the question why animals that have larger brains than man still do not have the same intellectual capabilities. Also, if a physical brain alone could produce the same results it also begs the question of why God put a spiritual component in man and just did not produce the same results with a physical brain.

    James Smyda

    Posted by James Smyda | January 11, 2013, 2:50 pm
  4. Howdy, all, and thanks for your comments so far!

    Mr Smyda, thanks, too for yours! Actually, though, I think you missed the question. In the post I tried to grant exactly what you are saying, as I believe it is the most biblically and rationally defensible position, for reasons such as you include. (I do think that there is an argument to be made about brain structure and design versus brain size, but nothing that changes the validity of other arguments.) The question at hand, then, is whether or not this means that humanity will ever be able to create an artificial intelligence that is indistinguishable from human intelligence (say, that will pass the strictest feasibly imaginable versions of the Turning test) and, if not, where would such an effort begin to fail? Or, conversely, if one believes that such an artificial intelligence could be created, what would be the implications for understanding the spirit in man, if any? Again, the biblical point of view you express is exactly the baseline from which the question is being asked and is assumed to be true, creating the question under consideration.

    And, Mike, thanks for your comment, as well! I’m not sure that I could grant that we truly can achieve functional equivalence to arbitrary tolerances of observation without more convincing. For instance, I would not be surprised if we found that we approached something like the “Uncanny Valley” that we found oddly impassable. But–if we could–then the question would be consequences would such an achievement imply about the spirit in man? In what relevant ways would functional equivalence differ from actual equivalence–ways in which, surely, the spirit in man should play a part? And how could such differences be made manifest, or would they be manifest to God, alone?

    Thanks, again, to everyone for their comments.

    Posted by Wallace G. Smith | January 11, 2013, 3:04 pm
  5. Wally, thanks for the feedback. Let me try to be a little more clear. The conclusion I was getting at is I don’t believe it will be possible for man to replicate God’s results in regards to human intellect. The very fact that He chose to use spirit to accomplish our intellect suggests to me that physical means alone would fall short. Thus, man’s attempts at replicating the human mind will fall short. As to exactly how to quantify the exact differences or deficiencies, I don’t know that I am capable of addressing that. In my opinion, when we as physical humans try to conceptualize and explain the spirit realm we can often be analogous to 3 year old children trying to explain what our dad does for a living. We attempt to explain it from our limited perspective but we don’t really do the subject justice.

    Posted by James Smyda | January 11, 2013, 3:49 pm
  6. Howdy, and thanks, again, Mr. Smyda! I agree–the spirit in man really does seem to be an essential ingredient in man’s make up when it comes to God’s purposes for Him, and there is no question about that. What it implies about man’s efforts to create an intelligence like his own does interest me, and I think it is interesting to speculate on how far that effort might go as well as how it might fall short. Thanks, once again, and have a great Sabbath!

    Posted by Wallace G. Smith | January 11, 2013, 4:00 pm
  7. “I’ve got my own thoughts on such research, but I’d like to hear yours.”

    Wow! How can I resist? An office worker once said that I knew everything. Maybe he meant, I have an opinion about everything.

    So here are my opinions. I think the human spirit adds intelligence, consciousness, and free will (free moral agency) to the physical brain to make the human mind – a combination of brain and spirit. Without the human spirit, the human brain would still have a certain degree of intelligence, probably more than any animal, but not as much as we humans actually have, and no consciousness or free will (I am saying animals lack the kind of consciousness we have, unless animals have some kind of spirit. I do not think physical matter alone can be conscious, else it might be an act of cruelty to turn off my computer).

    No computer hardware or software can be conscious or have free will. But it can be intelligent to a degree. It can replicate the intelligence of any physical brain, whether of animal or the human brain, even if you had to make a computer simulation of every cell (or every molecule) in the brain with the laws of physics programmed in the software – but probably you would not have to do that.

    Could you make a machine as intelligent as the human mind (brain + spirit) even though the machine has no spirit? I don’t know. Maybe. The Bible says we know what we know because of the spirit in man. That does not mean God could not make a physical brain alone without a spirit that was as intelligent as we are with our brain plus our spirit – He just chose not to.

    But from a practical point of view, it will never happen because the time required for man to invent such a machine, even if it is possible, far exceeds the number of years till Christ returns, and after that I don’t think mankind will be working on that particular project.

    My best guess is, yes, it’s possible. If scientitst had enough time to invent such a computer (maybe 50-150 years and hundreds of billions of dollars with today’s dollar value), I think they could build a computer as intelligent or more intelligent than humans.

    But if it failed, where would it fail? Probably with creativity that deals with subjects beyond routine matters, but things very conceptual, such as the meaning of life. Physical problem solving would not be that hard. Or it my fail at understanding moral issues, though I think some of that could be programmed.

    Posted by Ray Schaefer | January 11, 2013, 4:21 pm
  8. I believe that creating true, Turing Test certified, artificial intelligence that learns on its own is as likely as time travel. Sorry Siri and Delorean fans out there.

    If you could come up with a true AI, then it would seem to refute part of what the spirit in man does. Is it just a lifeless, but datafilled ‘DVD’ that records your character (who you really are) so that you can be resurrected – or is it also the key that differentiates us from animals as James alluded to. (BTW, are you James related to John and Rebecca Smyda from AL?)

    I say AI must learn on it’s own because from my engineering/compSci academic days, that is truly the only way a ‘thing’ could become intelligent. No amount of databasing nor programming can come up with that many ‘connections’ that need to be made and new experiences that anything will experience.

    As we ponder interesting ideas such as these, a nice Sabbath greeting I give to you friends.

    Posted by Jason Nitzberg | January 11, 2013, 5:11 pm
  9. Jason, yes, I am related to John Smyda. He is my older brother.

    Posted by James Smyda | January 11, 2013, 6:07 pm
  10. Hi Mr. Smith! I come at this subject these days from a modeling of human intelligence in the manner of forms of consciousness, which owes much to Carl Jung’s insights about “personality types”.

    There is a clear and simple model of how the eight Jungian CPs relate to the Core Self and how those relate to the Ego which somehow transcends them yet reflects them. When I read about how these things work empirically, how they are modeled and especially how the Jungian Ego is said to function, I realized, “Now here is the perfect illustration of how the Spirit in Man relates to the Human Brain. It explains human intelligence, but it also grants insight into animal intelligence and artificial intelligence as well.”

    Not meaning to toot my own horn as a blogger, but provided that you’re willing to concede any necessary caveat lector boilerplate language, please consider my entry on the subject here:

    http://realmwalker.wordpress.com/2011/12/25/the-ego-and-the-first-beatitude/

    We already have “intelligent machines” we can use for comparison: the brains of higher animals. And admittedly, a higher animal knows and can express the fact that it knows, on its own or through symbols we have taught the animal that we can understand. But it cannot know that it knows and that ability in humans rests in the Ego, the Spirit in Man, that searches the cognitive processes (thought patterns) of the Brain. Now many Jungians rest in materialism themselves and think the Ego is somehow projected by the Self. But how can this be? The flow of information works both ways and I can perceive the hierarchy of consciousness in myself as going from the Ego downward, not from the Brain upward. And how can the material come to even consider the possibility of the trans-material in the first place?

    Sorry I can’t do better than this on short notice, but I’d say that at best, AI will emulate the natural though processes of the human brain, or at least some of them, but never the spirit in man, because it won’t emulate the “Ego point of view” which from all evidence is unique to man among natural creatures.

    Posted by John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav) | January 11, 2013, 6:58 pm
  11. Howdy, Mr. Wheeler. I thought that an elementary Ego was being discovered among some animals, such as orangutans. Is that not the case?

    Posted by Wallace G. Smith | January 11, 2013, 7:13 pm
  12. Everything I’ve seen so far suggests that the “I” so expressed by higher animals isn’t like that of the human Ego (which – as consistent with the biblical model – isn’t based in the human brain or what underlies it even though it receives information from all that), but of the human Self (which is so physically based). That’s part of the problem of discussing the whole subject: even among us, what part of us says “I” to the rest of the world isn’t always the same. :D It can be any one of the eight physical forms of consciousness (based in the brain) or it can be the ninth and topmost, non-physical form of consciousness (based in the spirit or ego, and in that kind of intelligence that can ask questions about transcendent existence and purposes).

    Posted by John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav) | January 11, 2013, 7:18 pm
  13. At the risk of casting the whole subject in the wrong light: in terms of the (in)famous Myers-Briggs Type indicator codes, young children – and thus higher animals of like development – start out with a two-letter code (in the case of someone like me, EP). That means said entity prefers to look out toward the objective world and with a perceiving rather than a deciding (J) cognitive process. Next comes (for entities like me) ENP – again, a preference for a particular kind of perceiving, that of intuition (which is not spiritual in the sense we think of it although it is often mistaken as such). OK, granted, higher animals can go this far. But NONE of this has to do with an ego point of view, either in human children or in higher animals. It’s all based in the brain entirely. It gives us no indication one way or another that the entity metaphysically “knows that it knows” as well as physically “knows”. For that you have to look beyond perception and decision-making, and even the ability to express the fact that “I” am perceiving and deciding.

    Posted by John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav) | January 11, 2013, 7:25 pm
  14. Reblogged this on Realmwalker and commented:
    Naturally, something that provokes my keen interest as well…

    Posted by John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav) | January 11, 2013, 7:44 pm
  15. A lot of interesting comments already so I’ll keep it brief, I have to believe mankind could get very close to duplicating the mind of man based on one Bible verse: “And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.” Genesis 11:6 NKJV

    “And the Lord said, Behold, they are one people and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do, and now nothing they have imagined they can do will be impossible for them.” Amplified Bible

    I have to take the Bible literally and I have a hard time skipping over this verse.

    Posted by Don Elder (Baba Sun on Facebook) | January 11, 2013, 8:40 pm
  16. Hey — good catch, there, Mr. Elder! Might be very good reason, indeed, to wonder just how close they would be able to get, at least to the appearance of human intelligence. Thanks much, and have a wonderful Sabbath!

    Posted by Wallace G. Smith | January 11, 2013, 9:05 pm
  17. Hoping to produce a mimicker of intelligence & conscious? Yes, well, the IBM bank of PC’s named Watson [of Jeopardy fame] proved whit for whit on an intelligence end but conscious? No.
    Conscious draws from a human element, the mind & spirit factor. And proof of having spirit is defined by such things as gentleness, mercy, kindness, goodness, self-control. One is pressed to imagine a machine having any of these qualities -although movies try ( http://www.americanthinker.com/2012/12/acting_intelligent.html )

    Such endeavors doomed? Yes, without question. Why? Simply a matter of who the input-er is and what is being ‘funneled’ in.. Even if programmers / data entry people are esteem-able, the break down of consecutive inputers plus factoring in upgrading of knowledge -why it’s inevitable.(‘new’ knowledge such as divorce, once not condoned, but now is blasé; or other headlines we see today.)

    If I may, I would add a thought for the heart. It rightfully should be weighed in. The heart having input directly to the brain {http://madurasinghe.blogspot.com/2008/06/neurocardiology-brain-in-heart.html also http://www.mindfulmuscleblog.com/heart-has-consciousness/..to view use the archive site http://web.archive.org/ }. The ‘heart’ factor would never be available to a machine.

    Posted by Jean | January 11, 2013, 10:36 pm
  18. Thanks, Jean–and for e-mailing me the article to make sure I got it. I will have to look into that info, and I appreciate your thoughts!

    Posted by Wallace G. Smith | January 11, 2013, 11:45 pm
  19. They’re not going to produce artificial intelligence equal to the human mind. That’s not going to happen. I don’t see why they can’t make the effort, however. It would lead to better computers and more useful gadgets. Go for it! After all, the space program gave us things like PCs, microwave ovens, contact lenses, and… Tang! (Yes, I know the analogy doesn’t quite fit, but you get my drift).

    Posted by steve | January 11, 2013, 11:55 pm
  20. Regarding animal intelligence: while there has been evidence that many animals do possess an awareness of self (the phrase ‘primitive ego’ was used above), are animals capable of thinking beyond ‘the self’? Are they aware of, are they able to conceptualize, another plane of existence – a spiritual plane? This ability is universal among humans. Do animals possess it? It is this ability to look beyond what is immediate and tangible that has led to great insights and discoveries. Searching for deeper truth. Are animals able to apprehend the concept of God?

    If the above is a genuine point of difference between human intelligence and anything in the animal kingdom, then it would seem to be a good measuring stick for telling us if artificial intelligence is really approximating human capabilities or only mimicking a subset of human capabilities. Can an AI apprehend the concept of God? Can an AI yearn to be something greater than it is? More like God?

    For a Turing type test I suppose an AI could be programmed with the ‘Truth’ so that it would give the right responses to any doctrinal question we ask it, even giving the ‘right answers’ to questions meant to test readiness for baptism. But would it ‘understand’? Could it look to reach beyond itself to have a relationship with God? Could animal intelligence – which is equipped with emotional responses?

    End of the day, the answer is no.

    Posted by Thomas | January 12, 2013, 3:14 am
  21. I can’t resist tossing out some thoughts. It is my opinion that true artificial intelligence (A.I.) is impossible.

    Though there is the Gen.11:6 reference to nothing being withheld from man that he purposes, I believe that this has limits. For instance, mortal man cannot kill immortal God. Neither can mortal man live forever apart from God.

    Can man simulate or model basic intelligence? No doubt he can. However, this simulates human intelligence only as he can paint a picture of the ocean–he cannot create his own “artificial” vast ocean if one sets rules that makes it impossible. As pointed out by Mr. Smith, the missing element in the case of A.I. would be the spirit of man. A.I. will always be limited (as Mr. Smith has already alluded to). Though an adaptive, changing machine may be perfected, pre-written code fully determines the adaptations in ways that will never be the case in man. Free will necessitates a non-physical component (mind) that acts upon the brain and can induce neuroplastic changes. Again A.I. people cheat when trying to simulate free-will with pre-written code.

    Perhaps the “intelligence” of animals might be artificially created. However, even this may not be fully possible. Mr. Meredith has referred to the “breath of life” in Gen.2:6 as a limited type of “animating force.” It was also breathed into animals (Eccl 3:19-21). We know that God upholds “all things by the word of his power” (Heb.1:3), and “in Him all things hold together” (Col.1:17). Paul also states “in Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Life in general originates and is sustained with God’s spirit power. Perhaps there are parts of true biological life that lie outside of measurement by materialist, reductionist scientists with fancy tape measures.

    With some creative thinking, perhaps some might speculate that man could create a “biological” machine of sorts that somehow receives the spirit of man and thus attains true intelligence and “knows the things of man” (I Cor.2:11). However, spirit is “breathed” from God (John 20:22, Gen.2:7). This would be like me claiming that my 2 year old could inflate her own balloon and then proceeding to “prove” it by blowing it up for her.

    For the topic of A.I., I don’t know if the “intelligence” part would be possible, but even if it were, it would not be truly “artificial.” =)

    Posted by Bryan Fall | January 12, 2013, 8:50 am
  22. I recently read the below report in a news letter I receive – The Daily Reckoning (I’ve given the text of the report after my comments below). After reading it, I immediately thought of several Bible passages referring to the ‘spirit of man’ being returned to God for ‘safe keeping’.

    One of these is in 1 Thessalonians 5:22 – ‘Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely and MAY YOUR WHOLE SPIRIT, SOUL AND BODY BE PRESERVED BLAMELESS AT THE COMING OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST’. I have a note in my Bible attached to this passage that reads ‘At the end of a person’s life [i.e., when a person dies], God receives back the human spirit given. In it, He preserves a complete, detailed record of all that pertained to life of that individual.’

    Hebrews 12:22-23 further clarifies where these spirits are kept ‘blameless’ until the return of Jesus Christ to set-up the Government of God.

    It is interesting that your comment that modern scientists view the human brain as a type of ‘advanced computer’ and that the possibilities of using human DNA to store vast amounts of data is, even today, very possible. After all, humans were created after the ‘image’ of the God family, i.e., humans can think like God. Why did God put a kibosh to the Tower of Babel? He created the ‘human spirit’, thus He knew its capabilities and God’s plan was still in the working.

    So, to answer your question, ‘Does the truth about “human mind” equaling “physical brain plus spirit in man” mean that the attempts to achieve artificial intelligence that is indistinguishable from human intelligence is doomed to failure?’, in my uneducated opinion would be ‘Yes’.

    Christ Himself says that if He were not to come at the time God the Father wills, there would be no flesh remaining. This question of artificial intelligence must, indirectly, have something to do with that or Christ would not have made this statement. Man does not have the capability to manage the results from such an endeavor as your question poses – nor is there time :)

    Anyway, here is that report from the Daily Reckoning . . . .

    The world’s tiniest and most powerful storage medium.

    In 2012, scientists at Harvard’s Wyss Institute managed to store 700 terabytes of data in a single gram of DNA. For perspective, that’s equal to 700,000 printed copies of the Encyclopedia Britannica stuffed into a droplet that would fit on your pinky.

    DNA, as it happens, is an outstanding storage medium. It’s very stable: “Where other leading-edge storage mediums need to be kept in subzero vacuums,” according to Extreme Tech, “DNA can survive for hundreds of thousands of years in a box in your garage.”

    Reading the data from DNA is as simple as sequencing DNA, just like sequencing the human genome. In the 1990s, when our friend Juan Enriquez was backing the Human Genome Project, that process took years. Nowadays, it takes hours.

    “Imagine that you had really cheap videorecorders everywhere,” says geneticist George Church, who headed up the research. “Just paint walls with videorecorders. And for the most part, they just record and no one ever goes to them. But if something really good or really bad happens, you want to go and scrape the wall and see what you got. So something that’s molecular is so much more energy-efficient and compact that you can consider applications that were impossible before.”

    Posted by J.A. Clark | January 12, 2013, 12:50 pm
  23. Neural networking simulations like NEST and Google’s brain simulator are coming along pretty quickly since scientists have been able to more accurately model the neuron and how it interconnects with other neurons. Google’s attempt linked 16,000 processors together tethered a million “neural” connections and started showing it YouTube videos. On its own, it began recognizing faces with 75+% accuracy and cats with slightly less… Mind you, the researchers never told it in any way what a cat was or looked like. It made the entire classification up on its own like a child or dog might.

    A while back I read about a simulation where they mapped the entire brain of one of the smallest brains, and I can’t remember if it was a fruit fly or something similar, but when they “turned it on”, nothing much happened. That was, until they simulated it getting swat at… Then it began sending similar brain signals as a real creature would. I don’t want to confuse this with the brain wave reader connected to a live fruit fly, and I can’t recall if it also was able to send brain waves that represented flying and avoiding obstacles or not.

    Nevertheless, the point I took from all this is mankind will probably be able to mimic brains, probably even ours, and get very close to the animalistic reactions that all living creatures share. We might even find emotions like fear, anger and giddiness in these simulations since many animals display them. Dogs interpret our hand signals, emotions even know our schedules. Apes and ravens see a problem and can solve it using tools.

    However, will the machine become aware of its own existence? Perhaps if we model an elephant’s brain since they appear to be self-aware when looking into mirrors, along with apes and dolphins. Even social rules and tendencies seem to be modeled in the animal world. From all we see in nature around us–unless the animal world has its own spirit nature, too–these seem to be, for lack of a better term, mechanically- or chemically-embedded processes within our brains and/or neural networks.

    I think it’s when we begin getting into issues like diety worship (as Dr. Winnail once said, you don’t see cats and dogs bowing down before the Great Tuna or Bone in the sky), moral reasoning, compound reasoning, advanced intuition and communication, it might be that those aren’t components of the human physical brain, but the creative and moral components of the spiritual dimension.

    Posted by Mike | January 13, 2013, 2:35 pm
  24. Looking at some of the empty headed actions people are capable of saying and doing, making an artificial intelligence indistinguishable from mankind is doomed to failure. After watching a few episodes of Celebrity Rehab; can leave a person wondering if there was something artificial about a person’s intelligence. I doubt techno-puppets can be sent or have the free will to go to rehab and utilize a twelve-step program within a group.

    In my view artificial intelligence will be distinguishable from human intellingence because of its’ lack of failure.

    Posted by Norbert | January 16, 2013, 7:50 am
  25. Mr. Smith et al.: I think you will find this blog very, very interesting. It’s long enough to do the job required of the subject, but short enough to be digestible.

    Who Am I? The Building of Bionic Man
    by William Carroll
    within Philosophy, Science
    February 21st, 2013
    The invention of Rex, a bionic man with artificially created organs, helps us see why it is impossible for any machine to be a human being.

    http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/02/8020/

    Posted by John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav) | February 21, 2013, 11:31 am

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