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Agency

Storms don't have it

https://www.the-american-interest.com/2019/10/08/artificial-intelligence-whats-to-fear/
Ronald Dworkin
Here's a quick question for you. Did a hurricane cause the destruction in the Bahamas last month? Dworkin says no.
You see; the hurricane had no mind and so was just a passive thing happening in the world and couldn't 'cause' anything because only things with minds can be active and causal. People have agency and can decide what to do. A hurricane has no agency and can't decide what to do.

This idea that only agents can cause anything is a bit muddled I think. I think that reality is a web of cause and effect. I don't know how that all started but I have detected it without a doubt. It's a web where every effect has many causes, and where every cause has many effects. And it seems obvious to me that things that can decide what to do have emerged in that web.

I decide what to do all the time. The animals I am most familiar with, mammals also seem to decide what to do. Reptiles and fish seem to decide too (though they do not have the cognitive capacity of mammals) I'm not sure whether insects decide. But that might be just because I don't know much about their behavior. A venus fly trap plant has a behavior of sorts when it traps an insect and even makes a rudimentary sort of decision. It has leaves that snap shut when hairs on the surface are stimulated by an insect - but it takes two stimulations in a short time to trigger the behavior so that raindrops or small debris don't cause the leaves to snap.

My point here is that people certainly decide, but we aren't the only ones who decide in the natural world. There are many things that decide. How is it that things can decide? Dworkin proposes that things with agency can decide or things with minds can decide (I think he treats agency and mind as synonyms.) He looks at the brain as a physical thing, and he take's Descarte's view that no matter how closely we look at a brain we won't find a mind. Now since Descartes time we have learned a lot about the brain as a physical thing and we've learned a lot about how that thing decides - and it's true that we don't find a mind - it's much more interesting than that

One of the thrusts of Dworkin's article is to discuss the effect of Artificial Intelligence on human intelligence. He imagines a time when computers will be better at most things than people are. It's happening. Already there are ai medical diagnostic systems that do a better job than doctors. His view is that humans will become discouraged at their 'imperfection' compared to machines.
But is that true?

For instance, I enjoy chess. And I played a chess game called Sargon on my 16 k TRS80 30 years ago. It always beat me. Since then the chess software has improved to the point where it beats grandmasters. I still enjoy playing chess - it's a fun thing to do. It doesn't matter that software is better than me - the point is to have fun playing. And after all - I live in a world where there are human grandmasters at chess. I've played with a few of those and I never win against them either. That didn't spoil my pleasure at the game.

I think AI is coming and it will bring huge changes I think we will benefit from them. People are people and are good at making their own fun. And machines can free us from drudgery so we can explore better things.

Be not afraid

What do you think?

Star I present regular philosophy discussions in a virtual reality called Second Life. I set a topic and people come as avatars and sit around a virtual table to discuss it. Each week I write a short essay to set the topic. I show a selection of them here.

I've been thinking and reading about philosophy for a long time but I'm mostly self taught. That is I've had the good fortune to read what interests me rather than follow a course of study. That has it's limits of course but advantages. It doesn't cost as much and is fun too.

My interests are things like evolution and cognition and social issues and economics and science in general.