Posted by: Kenn Hermann | February 20, 2006

Toward a Reformational Ontology of Computers

I have more to say about a reformational ontology of the computer, but for now . . . several points:

  • We need to call the bluff of the AI folks. ‘Intelligence’ must be reserved for humans. Humans and machines do not belong to a class of ‘intelligent’ entities in which ‘intelligence’ is present along a continuum from ‘low’ to ‘high.’ No machine can be called ‘intelligent’ without seriously compromising a Christian anthropology and philosophy of technological objects. At best computers and other machines can enhance or augment or sharpen human intelligence, but in no way can ‘intelligence’ be taken as an inherent characteristic of the computer. (One of the deep ironies here is that the word ‘computer’ comes from the humans who labored many hours to ‘compute’ astronomical, log, and other tables before machines took over those functions. So ‘computer’ is the original anthropomorphism at work here.)
  • The great challenge and difficulty we face is that our language concerning machines, especially computers, has not kept pace with the complexity and sophistication of those machines. Thus, we are forced to limp along with numerous anthropomorphisms, mechanomorphisms, analogies, metaphors, and poetic figures without clearly understanding that is what we are doing. How many times have I had colleagues say to me, “oh, Kenn, you know what I mean when I use ‘intelligence’ with computers.” In point of fact, I don’t. Therein lies the ontological gulf that separates us.
  • In my judgment, computers are technological objects that have successfully abstracted the lower physical modalities from human thought and objectified them in electronics, software, and hardware. They are, as such, highly abstract machines that do not fully disclose the modal diversity of the creation. Their modal presence, as with all technological objects, needs to be carefully distinguished from natural objects and humanity. The retrocipatory and anticipatory moments that are present in this object need to be carefully identified and distinguished.

. . . . more later.

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Responses

  1. I don’t think that you’re offering a convincing counter to the strong AI claim. Our computers are presently a million times less powerful than human brains. In about twenty years, they’ll catch up. Then the AI claim will be experimentally verifiable. At this point, there’s no bluff to call, and no evidence with which you can call it.

    Indeed, it could be said that it is your bluff that has been called. We know that humans are biochemical computing machines because we can tamper with human brains (physically, electrically) and change any aspect of their computation. We can even make people have religious experiences by shutting down the area of the brain that mentally defines the boundary between the body and the outside world. This is precisely the experimental result we would not expect to get if we were more than machine.

  2. Aah, you almost had me there. My, oh my, computer programmers are creating more sophisticated programs every day. Eliza is only a faint shadow compared to what is possible now. You almost had me believing that ‘you’ were a You, Dr. Logic. Whomever is the inventor of your software deserves great praise. I would love to talk with that Person.

  3. Here are some links that I believe will be interested

  4. […] “Toward a Reformational Ontology of the Computer” […]


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