CS009: Computers and Human Values
Department of Computer Science, Brown University
Notes, September 15th -- Roger B. Blumberg

Hans Moravec's ROBOT: Session II

"As a social problem, human values can be rated above the more tangible concerns such as those of poverty, pollution, energy, and over-population on the grounds that thes more concrete problems are all manmade, and are very largely products of human values. Further, they are not correctable on any long-term basis without effecting adaptive changes in the underlying human values involved." Roger Sperry, Science and Moral Priority: Merging Mind, Brain and Human Values (Praeger, 1985)

"A good compromise, it seems to me, is to allow anyone to perfect their biology within broad biological bounds. They could make themselves healthier, more beautiful, stronger, more intelligent and longer-lived. They could not use machinery to make themselves as powerful or as smart as robots. Those who cannot tolerate the restrictions would be offered a radical escape clause." Hans Moravec, ROBOT: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind (Oxford University Press, 1999)

Introduction: Keywords

The different perspectives on technology and human values illustrated by the the epigraphs above have been with us since the earliest days of computers -- most if not all of the prognostications in Moravec's book can be found in Asimov's 1950 book I, Robot, and clearly the concern about the relationship between science and values is as old as science itself.

We'll begin today's session by talking about questions people had about the first several chapters of Moravec's book, and ask whether/how the technical details of Moravec's argument matter.

Next, we'll talk about the Turing paper, the so-called "Turing Test." One issue from last time I found disturbing was inspired by the comment that, if a computer "apologized" for something one wouldn't think it meaningful. Before my Tuesday was over, I had received an apology from an acquaintance (human) the meaning of which I suddenly began to doubt.... Needless to say, this is relevent to some of the issues raised in the Robopet exercise. Everyone will be expected to post a response to some question raised in the exercise by the end of the day on Friday. Postings should be put in the "Robopets 2005" folder in the Discussion part of our WebCT account.

Moravec' ROBOT, chapter 4-7

We'll continue with Winston's questions/comments in the first 5 chapters, and lay the groundwork for Tuesday's final discussion of Moravec. We'll be joined on Tuesday by Chad Jenkins, a professor of computer science at Brown and our resident (humanoid) Robotics expert. Chad will address not only the state of contemporary robotics, but what is sometimes called "Robot Philosophy," which dates at least from Isaac Asimov's 1950 classic I, Robot.

For Next Time:: Finish ROBOT if you've not done so already, and begin reading Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy copies of which are available at Symposium Books and the Brown Bookstore. Arnold's book is about as different from Moravec's book as you can imagine, and I think it will be most enjoyable if you begin with the Introduction rather than the Preface, and get quickly to the first chapter, "Sweetness and Light".

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