Re: Hawking misquoted on computers taking over

From: Samantha Atkins (
Date: Sat Sep 15 2001 - 15:39:29 MDT

"Robert J. Bradbury" wrote:

> I view "intelligence" (in terms of ability to hold, manipulate
> and make creative discoveries with large quantities of information)
> as something in a distinct realm separate from religions or moral
> prioritization systems.

Well IANAP (I am not a philosopher), but, this seems to be a bit
odd as a stab at defining intelligence. A computer with a hard
disk can hold and manipulate much larger quantities of
information of at least some types that I can and much faster.
Does this make the computer more intelligent? With the right
programming it can even extrapolate and combine this information
to make new discoveries.

> I know of an individual who went through
> MIT as a physics major with a 4.0 GPA -- a person much smarter
> than myself -- who maintained a very deep Christian perspective
> of life. Intelligence and religion are two very very different realms.
> Intelligence is about how much information one can manipulate.
> Religion is, to some extent, about the value you place on the
> information being manipulated.

What about the quality of the manipulations and the conclusions
derived from the information and the feedback loops from priopr
manipulations to more abstract manipulations leading to more
efficient future interactions? All of these are part of what
intelligence is. Some of them are also part of what some
aspects of religious systems are.

> The perspective that we need to develop, that I think may be lacking,
> is "What is *really* valuable?". Increasing the number of raw
> bits is of course wonderful -- but how do we evaluatate the value
> of those bits? Sooner or later we are going to hit the limits of
> computational and data storage resources. When that happens what
> do you save and what do you erase?

Bits of themselves are not terribly "relevant".

> What we are observing with the Moslem Jihads is a perspective that
> "your bits are worthless". And from within the perspective of that
> system, that may be an entirely valid belief. However it is not
> clear to me that the Western perspective of democracies or societies

Is then "validity" utterly relative and baseless?

> "free to believe in a variety of moral systems" can claim the high
> ground. In watching the ceremonies at Washington National Cathedral
> today, I was struck by the fact that all of the speakers were
> calling on God in one way or another. While I had tears in my eyes
> with regard to the losses being discussed, I could not help but observe
> the degree to which even a free, rational society is invoking icons
> and histories which are as dubious as those on which Moslem perspectives
> are based.

It is very clear to me that a system that affirms the rights of
individuals and the freedom to believe as one pleases without
trampling the rights of others does have the high ground over
any system that coerces the individual to one set of belief
structures whether they make sense to the individual or not.

Due to the lack of rational value systems (mostly) and the
failure of modern non-religious philosophy to produce strong
value systems, it is to be expected than when strong value and
emotion laden things are being disucssed that the language of
religion will be invoked fairly often.

This does not mean, however, that since all are invoking
religious symbology that all the positions and societies
involved are equivalent or at all indistinquishable from one
another and therefore cannot be rationally evaluated for
relative merits and demerits.
> My perspective is this -- Can we construct a society and moral
> value system based on "reality"? I think it is essential that
> we really, seriously begin to ask ourselves *and others* the question:
> "How do you *know* what you know?"
> Every morning when I get out of bed I extend my feet over the
> edge and I observe whether or not they are accelerated towards the
> floor of my bedroom. So far, they always have been and thus I am
> confident that the physical law of gravity is still working. However
> I am keenly aware that many of the things that I believe depend on
> the trust relationships that I have with researchers and scientists
> that I may only know on the basis of reputation. In reality, I must
> admit only a "hope" that the supersymmetry theory of physical particles is
> valid. This is not so much different from the faith that the terrorists
> who got on the planes Tuesday have in their perspectives.

I hope that you understand this is quite a bit different. Your
belief system is based on conclusions arrived at, by yourself
and others, in a system designed to question and test each
assumption and result. Mostly, with some notable exceptions,
this is not true of the way most religions work or at least of
the way most people adhere to religions.

> How do we know what we know?
> How do we value one collection of bits above another?

These are good questions. But in the meantime we have at least
one shortcut. Which belief systems result in the most
transformative potential?

- samantha

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