Ghost in the Machine

Yfke Laanstra
'Just as electricity is sent through the electricity grid to supply devices and machines, in the same way, Artificial Intelligence will move through everything (and everyone).'

Perhaps you've heard of the phrase 'the ghost in the machine'. It was introduced in the 20th century by Gilbert Ryle (1900-1976), a British philosopher who through his work 'The concept of Mind' (1949) was best known for his criticism of the Dualism of the well-known philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650). Dualism encompasses the idea that a spirit (resp. the soul) exists independently of the body, whereby the body is seen as a machine, as it were. This body of thought has taken off (in a sci-fi manner) with the current developments in computer technology and is more topical than ever. As we are increasingly confronted with the question 'to what extent does the human being actually distinguish him/her from the machine'.

"Are we some kind of cyber-biological "machine" with a soul?
Is it possible the other way around that there are machines that have or can develop a soul or a consciousness?

Ghost in the shell
Perhaps you remember the film 'I, Robot', which appeared in cinemas in 2004. The story in this film is set in the year 2035 (!), in which seemingly innocent house robots eventually turn against humanity collectively. From the supercomputer, with which all robots are centrally connected, a task arises to rule over the world and to intervene in the fate of mankind. In short, the machine seems to have developed an awareness, with all its consequences. This film is partly based on the book of the same name by Isaac Asimov, which has already been released in 1950(!). In 1956 the term Artificial Intelligence was launched. In 1968 Arthur C. Clarke published his book '2001, A Space Odyssey' with the intelligent supercomputer HAL 9000 (filmed by Stanley Kubrick). The hype was complete with the appearance of the first film with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator film series in 1984.
The theme of robots, supercomputers, consciousness and Artificial Intelligence has become an integral part of our contemporary cinematic experience. It is the rule rather than the exception that these themes appear in science fiction films and in many series. Think of films like 'Transcendence', 'Ex-Machina' and 'Her'. Or Netflix series such as 'Travelers', 'Continuum', 'The 100' and 'Altered Carbon'.

Especially in the Hollywood production 'Ghost in the Shell', which appeared in Dutch cinemas in 2017, the theme of a ghost in the machine was elaborated on very specifically. The story takes place in the 21st century, in which the main character looks like an ordinary person on the outside, but is actually a cyborg: a so-called human robot. She still has part of her human brain, but an artificial body. As a result, she raises a number of questions about her own identity and humanity. Is she more than a ghost, a soul, trapped in a shell, an artificial vessel? The film raises ethical and philosophical questions about identity and the blurring of the boundary between technology and biology.

Artificial Intelligence
So when we talk about 'the mind in the machine' today, the term 'Artificial Intelligence' (AI) is quickly used. The introduction of this is one of the greatest current computer technological revolutions. But what is this anyway? In fact, it is the ability of a machine, a form of intelligence, to solve a problem independently. Many people think that Artificial Intelligence is something that has yet to be developed or something that is only found in robots. However, it has been in use for a long time. Applications range from something as simple as the calculators in our smartphone, the virtual assistant Siri (launched in 2011), self-driving cars to the software behind the platforms of tech giants like Facebook and Google. In the meantime, Machine Learning has entered the stage: the ability of a computer to learn by itself without being specifically programmed. The computer is fed with innumerable possibilities/data, after which it will make its own connections and recognize patterns.

There are different forms of AI, which can be roughly divided into three types:
1. Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI)
This is an Artificial Intelligence that can only be programmed within a narrow bandwidth, for something that is within a certain area. For example, our smartphones, email programs and social media are full of this type of Artificial Intelligence. Google Translate and every search engine is based on this. So when you're on social media, you're simply interacting with a supercomputer.

2. Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)
This is also called Strong AI, a stronger form that is more similar to human intelligence. This form will be able to use logic, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, understand complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. This is much more complex than the Narrow version of AI (ANI). If we are able to develop artificial intelligence that is at least as smart as we are, it will have practical advantages over our biocomputer. Artificial intelligence will always exceed the speed, storage capacity, reliability and durability of our own brain. After all, the artificial brain is not limited by the size of a human skull, for example, and is not subject to 'wear and tear' or exhaustion. In addition, a computer brain is easy to upgrade and modify.

3. Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI)
This is the superlative of AGI, it exceeds our human capacity at every level. This ranges from ASI that is only slightly smarter than humans to ASI that is a million times smarter. By smarter I don't just mean the possibility to process more data in a shorter time than a human brain, but the actual transcendence of the human brain by complex neural functions such as immensely complex thinking and the processing of immensely complex algorithms. In a split second, in a true explosion of intelligence.

Artificial Consciousness
Artificial intelligence will at some point be able to simulate (read: imitate) and read people in such a way that they can respond to the feelings, thoughts and expectations of each individual. This has long been the case to a certain extent, think of the influence via social media and online marketing. Intelligent cameras have also been developed, for example, which can fully read your state of mind. Chatbots (the combination of chat and robot: an automated conversation partner in, for example, online chat/helpdesk environments) and virtual assistants are also becoming increasingly human, intelligent and advanced. But can machines actually develop a consciousness? In the sense that they are aware of themselves and their 'inner world', and can interact with the world around them from that perspective? If this is the case, it means that in addition to our current sphere of consciousness, there is also an artificial version of it: a so-called artificial/technological sphere of consciousness. More on this later.

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