AI, Cyborgs and Robots

When discussing the nature of an individual’s beliefs about intelligence, knowledge or the learning process, I have noticed in a number of discussion forum threads on EDEDC and ULOE11 that it can be a useful device to refer to an artificial intelligence agent, knowledge-based computer systems or robot.

Hayles (1999, pp 23-24) mentioned Philip Dick’s novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” (which was the basis for the Blade Runner movie) through which a number of personal identity and ethical issues are explored. I have previously mentioned some of these issues as having been raised at

This transferance of the argument to an artificial agent can help avoid the over emphasis of human traits or superior species assumptive arguments. The more we observe of animals and consider artificial agents, the more we will come to realise we are just another type of soft machine. Recent studies apparently show we can even share blood transfusions with chimpanzees, as they are so closely related to us. Dolphins may have a different type of intelligence, but should we put such intelligent creatures in zoos? A recent article by Montgomery (2011) on “How Smart is an Octopus” is fascinating. See

Hayles, N. Katherine, (1999) “Towards embodied virtuality” from Hayles, N. Katherine, “How we became posthuman: virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature, and informatics” pp.1-25,293-297, Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press

Montgomery, Syd (2011) “Deep Intellect: Inside the mind of the octopus”, Orion Magazine, November/December 2011.

  • Siân Bayne says:

    Nice post Austin – I like the idea that focusing discussion on artificial agents helps us work around assumptions of species superiority. I’m not so sure about the notion of the human as soft machine though, as that seems to buy into some of the less critical posthumanist or transhumanist assumptions that information/code is something which it is possible to isolate from its material base, its body (Katherine Hayles’ argument).

    Loved the octopus article. I like work which doesn’t assume species superiority but which at the same time doesn’t resort to cheesy anthropomorphism (cf the Frozen Planet). That later just seems to me another form of anthropocentrism.

    Anyway, lots of thoughts from a short post – thanks!

    • Austin Tate says:

      Thanks Sian.

      But let me push one step further… as I did not buy Katherine Hayles “argument” (I would call it a simple “assertion”) and I thought she was offhand in her remarks on “how… was it possible for someone of Moravec’s obvious intelligence to believe…”. I did not see a rationale for her dismissal of other thinking that seemed to go beyond her own asserted viewpoint.

      I would have preferred to see some argumentation from her on how the “context” of a “body” provides some defining characteristics for how knowledge is used when so embodied. That could have been interesting with respect to education in both face-to-face and distance learning forms.

      By discussing an embodied context for knowledge she might have been able to argue what is it about a (human or animal) body that means it can uniquely carry something that another device cannot? If the “information” is “stored” somewhere whether its in mushy grey matter or a computer, or in transit between communication devices… does the information still exist?

      I agree with you on Frozen Planet. Stunning photography… the narwhals images were really fantastic… but David Attenborough’s narration this time is not the best.

      • Siân Bayne says:

        But isn’t the argument that information isn’t ‘carried’ so much as generated in the process of a body’s interaction with an environment? So if I touch a cut lemon with a cut on my finger the information I then ‘carry’ about the lemon (pain) is very different from the information someone else ‘carries’ who has touched it with intact skin. Maybe not a great example, but doesn’t that view work against the idea of information ‘storage’ and ‘transfer’ between bodies/entities?

        • Austin Tate says:

          I might argue that the information is triggering a response in your corporeal enclosure. It would be a different response in another body with different properties, but the information itself might be the same. It could be passed on and experience by exciting the right receptors and chemicals in another body without that body being physically present. I understand that you can train pain responses out of a body, and feel it differently depending on a wide range of environmental factors, including under the influence of pain killing drugs.

          I am not saying that the body does not provide a “context” for acting on and responding to the signals. But would argue that this can be felt remotely and potentially by robotic systems.

  • Austin Tate says:

    [Copy of relevant comment from post entitled "Posthuman - Connected"]

    See Donna Haraway’s Companion Species Manifesto,_Companion_Species_Manifesto.pdf

    and compare to LIREC Future Robot Companions Project