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Friday, January 24, 2014

Alejandro García-Rivera and personhood

Reading Artificial intelligence and de las Casas: A 1492 resonance by Alejandro García-Rivera. It's about intelligence or personhood tests - one from the 16th century, the Valladolid debate, and more modern ones like the Turing Test and Searle's Chinese Room (I wrote about these tests here).

The Valladolid debate, held in Spain, was about whether Native Americans in the New World were intelligent enough to be "people" and thus not slave material. Speaking for the Native Americans was Bishop (and Dominican) Bartolomé de las Casas. He's often viewed as a wonderful guy for this, but it should be mentioned that he was in favor of the slavery of African natives (the Transatlantic slave trade.). Representing the Spanish monarchy in the debate (pro-slavery) was another Dominican, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda. Here's a bit from Professor García-Rivera's article ...

[...] Gines de SepGlveda argued:

*** [I]f you know the customs and nature of the two peoples [Spaniards and Native Americans], that with perfect right the Spaniards rule over these barbarians of the New World and the adjacent islands, who in wisdom, intelligence, virtue, and humanitus are as inferior to the Spaniards as infants to adults and women to men. There is as much difference between them as there is between cruel, wild peoples and the most merciful of peoples, between the most monstrously intemperate peoples and those who are temperate and moderate in their pleasures, that, is to say, between apes and men. (Seplilveda [1550] 1892) ***

De las Casas took a different tack. By concentrating on the Amerindian’s willingness and receptivity to the gospel, de las Casas aimed to show that such receptivity was also a mark of intelligence. Thus, he countered:

*** [W]hatever I say about the faith of the Indians I have seen with my own eyes, not only in one place or one nation but in very many. They honor the holy sacraments of the [Roman] Catholic Church and receive them with a great indication of piety. If they cannot be helped by the sacraments because of a lack of priests, these sincere people grow pale, lament, grieve and weep. Again, at the time ofdeath you may see in them a wonderful concern about their salvation and their soul-a clear sign of eternal predestination that is characteristic of Christians. (de las Casas [1550] 1988). ***

According to the Wikipedia page on the debate, neither side really won and there was no actual change in the treatment of the natives of the New World.

Professor García-Rivera goes on to describe the Turing test and Searle's Chinese Room thought experiment, which deal with the differences between human thinking and artificial intelligence - he sees the Turing test as being just about straight intelligence, while the Chinese Room scenario is about meaning ...

First, if we were able to create artificially intelligent machines, we would have to recognize that such intelligence is tied to meaning. Where there is intelligence, there is also meaning. We ought to realize that intelligent beings, be they machines or human, are also meaningful beings and not natural slaves. Secondly, we would have to recognize that an artificially intelligent machine would be more of an “other” than an “us.” As such, a Turing test would not be enough to test for the sentience of a machine. Turing tests test for "us-ness,” not for “otherness.” Without a test for “otherness,” it might be possible to create an artificially intelligent machine without knowing it and then inadvertently take its life or its freedom.

If I understand him correctly, Professor García-Rivera seems to be saying that validation of others as persons requires more than an evaluation of intelligence, that the ultimate touchstone of personhood should not necessarily be complete conformance to human criteria. I agree.This all brings me to a couple of fictional personhood tests ...

One of these was the trial in an episode of Star Trek to decide if Commander Data, an android, was a "person" or not. Data was of course very intelligent but what made him a person was not this alone - any computer seems intelligent if it's well programmed - it was the meaning, different though it may have been from human meaning, that he was able to give to his lived experience. As Captain Picard, who defended Data's rights, realized, it was all about slavery ...

The other test was the Voight-Kampff test from Blade Runner (and Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) which was used to tell the difference between human beings and replicants. The test didn't measure intelligence - replicants were perhaps even more intelligent than humans - but it measured empathy, and specifically empathy for animals .... this wasn't so obvious in the film, but the book shows a world where real animals are almost completely extinct and where every person longs to experience the companionship of an animal, even if it's only an electric sheep. The replicants had no detectable empathy, and yet this scene from the movie shows a kind of personhood that, while different than ours, was still recognizable. That's visible in this scene in which a replicant unexpectedly saves Deckard's life and then speaks so eloquently to him of his own impending death ...


Anonymous Richard said...

Great scene, great movie. Never gets old. Thanks:)

1:26 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Surprising how it still seems good.

6:23 PM  

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