PA: Interestingly enough -- and I mention this because we are having this interview for an AI website -- one of the more contentious ideas in what I have just said is that we should be able to formally describe minds. Some people may say that we cannot describe God because the concept of mind itself is “outside scientific description” and that it is not just God’s mind that “just is,” but all minds, and that none of them can even be represented by a scientific theory. If this is the situation then we cannot talk about how much information is needed to describe a mind. I would consider this a silly way of doing things, and we should ask exactly what is being claimed by such non-claims, but many people do think that mind is somehow special.
The philosopher Alvin Plantinga has even used an argument like this to attempt to show that God is no more implausible than our minds. He says that accepting that other people’s minds exist then is not much worse than believing that God’s mind exists. This relates AI to religion in a big way. If someone produces a mind in a machine then we will have strong evidence that minds are not “beyond science” -- that they are just like any other phenomena and they should be formally describable. This would mean that we can ask how much information needs to be added to a view of reality to put a mind into it. For minds like ours, which follow on from simpler causes, the information content is not too high. For God’s mind, which “just is,” the information content would be huge, making him implausible, and accepting God would not be as sensible as accepting other people’s minds.
If someone produces an AI system, therefore, it kicks the whole idea of “mind” out of the realm of the supernatural and firmly into the realm of something that can be analyzed -- including God’s mind -- and God would not do very well because of it. Even ignoring things like information content, the existence of non-supernatural minds in itself would weaken a claim for God, as most theists probably do think that he is supernatural. Such theists would then be claiming, effectively, that although “natural” minds can exist in computers, there can also be extra-special ones, like those belonging to Gods, that are supernatural. This would be as nonsensical as claiming the existence of a supernatural baseball bat, banana or tax return.
Even if we believe that the concept of “the supernatural” means something (and I don’t) -- once we know something is part of the conventionally describable, natural world, it is silly to suggest that there can be supernatural alternatives.
MLU: What then are your hopes for the future of AI research, and for your research in particular?