Machines with a Point of View

Hilary Putnam

  • Minds and Mechanisms: Philosophical Psychology and Computational Models by Margaret Boden
    Harvester, 311 pp, £20.00, October 1981, ISBN 0 7108 0005 3

Margaret Boden’s somewhat breathless book sings the praises of the new ‘computational’ models in psychology and of what she rightly calls ‘the computational metaphor’. A feature of her writing is the making of (what seem to be) strong claims followed or prefaced by judicious disclaimers. When she is functioning in what I am tempted to call her disclaimer mode, she warns us against various kinds of intellectual ‘imperialism’ that AI people engage in at times (‘AI’ is the acronym for Artificial Intelligence – computer simulation of ‘intelligent’ behaviour), urges a Popperian stance of trying to falsify strong claims, and even denies that computers could in principle be conscious or have intentional states (in a non-metaphorical sense). But when she is functioning in her selling mode we get claims like this: ‘We now have machines with a point of view of their own, machines with a subjective model (representation) of the world and their own actions in it by means of which they deliberate more or less carefully about what they should do and what they should not have done and why. The insidiously dehumanising effects of mechanism can thus be counteracted in a scientifically acceptable manner. By providing a richer image of machines that suggests how it is that subjectivity, purpose and freedom can characterise parts of the material world, current science helps us to understand how human values can be embodied in a mechanistic universe.’

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