Mike’s vlog #1

So, there’s this very apocryphal Nils Bohr story: someone goes to visit him, and after their visit, as they’re heading for the door, they look up and see this horseshoe over the door, and the visitor asks Bohr, “what’s that for?” And Bohr says, “well, they say it brings good luck…” The visitor says, “surely you don’t believe that?” And Bohr replies, “oh, of course not! …but they say it works… even if you don’t believe in it…”

Okay… my name is Mike Williams, and I’m thirty-six, and I’m a robotics scientist. I did my doctorate at Carnegie Mellon and now I run a university robotics research lab. Robotics I would say, in my humble opinion, is really where it’s at. So Deep Blue is the world chess champion. Big deal. Deep Blue is the biggest idiot savant in the history of “life” on earth. In a person, or in a robot, there’s really three things going on, perception, cognition and action. So it’s not about calculating pi to a million digits, it’s not about playing some “simple” game like chess where a queen can be in one of sixty-four discreet places… sixty-four squares in some abstract, geometric world, it’s about the real world where you can never absolutely know anything. The real world where the queen might be part way across the line, where there’s a breeze that’s pushing her one way or another, the real world where everything you think you know is just an approximation of whatever the “real” might be.

My daughter Laura was adding computer memory the other day, and as she had the lid off the machine she just stared at all that silicon, and said, “daddy, all this electronics, this could never really be conscious, could it?” And I found myself asking her, if you “slid the lid” off a human skull, if you looked at all that gray jell-o inside, would you ever imagine that that could be conscious? We always think of the machines we make in such a limited, such a crude little way. Maybe we should turn the tables and look at ourselves. Maybe the real question is: how do you get mind from meat?

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