To Jeff Re: purpose of AIs

Robert Owen (
Tue, 14 Dec 1999 03:32:38 -0500

Robert Owen wrote:

> jeff nordahl wrote:
> > Can someone please explain their motive for creating an AI in the first
> > place.
> Well, Jeff, "artificial' or "simulated" intelligence as a program of computer
> instructions is intended to rapidly perform operations whose output is a
> logical conclusion. Such programs can be refined to perform trial-and-error
> operations on their own instructions to self-enhance their performance
> and in this manner, it is hoped, "bootstrap" themselves to produce novel,
> emergent capabilities. This project is often confounded with cybernetics
> and robotics research, where the objective is to develop control and
> automotive manipulative systems capable of behaving "intelligently" when
> confronted with external tasks.
> Much of what remains is fantasy, dreams that have existed for a long time
> the "moral" value of which, about which you inquire, is coextensive with
> the spectrum of human desire.

I wrote this response to your original inquiry on 12 Dec l999 knowing that a long visionary thread was bound to follow. Has it answered your question? Although the origin of this theme is found in the dark recesses of medieval speculations on the homunculus, it was revived by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, 1797-1851 whose father, William Godwin, more-or-less popularized the idea of "The Perfectibility of Man" in his writings -- the phrase "Godwin Perfectibility Man" was widely used satirically at the time. All this may be studied at the URL provided below; I'll just include a bit from Mary's work...

He began his lecture by a recapitulation of the history of chemistry and he concluded with a panegyric upon modern chemistry, the terms of which I shall never forget: The ancient teachers of this science, promised impossibilities and performed nothing. The modern masters promise very little; they know that metals cannot be transmuted and that the elixir of life is a chimera. But these philosophers, whose hands seem only made to dabble in dirt, and their eyes to pore over the microscope or crucible, have indeed performed miracles. They penetrate into the recesses of nature and show how she works in her hidingplaces. They have acquired new and almost unlimited powers; they can command the thunders of heaven, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows.

Such were the professor's words -- let me say such the words of the fate -- announced to destroy me. One by one the various keys were touched which formed the mechanism of my being; chord after chord was sounded, and soon my mind was filled with one thought, one conception, one purpose. So much has been done, exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein -- more, far more, will I achieve; treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.

I saw how the fine form of man was degraded and wasted; I saw how the worm inherited the wonders of the eye and brain. I paused, examining and analysing all the minutiae of causation, as exemplified in the change from life to death, and death to life, until from the midst of this darkness a sudden light broke in upon me -- I became dizzy with the immensity of the prospect which it illustrated, I was surprised that among so many men of genius who had directed their inquiries towards the same science, that I alone should be reserved to discover so astonishing a secret.

Remember, I am not recording the vision of a madman. Some miracle might have produced it, yet the stages of the discovery were distinct and probable. After days and nights of incredible labour and fatigue, I succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life; nay, more, I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter."

Robert M. Owen
The Orion Institute
57 W. Morgan Street
Brevard, NC 28712-3659 USA