Keywords: Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning

Title: Digital Soul

Author: Thomas M. Georges

Publisher: Westview Press

Media: Book

Reviewer: Pan

Digital Soul is a wide-ranging survey of the ethical and moral dilemmas raised by the prospect of conscious, intelligent machines. It takes as a starting point the stance of those who believe in 'strong AI' - that machine consciousness and intelligence equal to, or surpassing, our own are both possible and probable. The prospect is not one that fills Georges with any great joy, and he discusses the many social and moral implications that follow from this.

Obviously discussion of machine intelligence and consciousness must begin with an examination of what these concepts mean in general. Here the book covers some of the same material discussed by Merlin Donald in A Mind So Rare. Similarly there is a great deal of cross-over with Mind and Mechanism by Drew McDermott when he discusses intentionality and emotions in machines.

While the book does cover a wide range of issues, and there is no doubting the liberal and humane values of the author, it comes across as somewhat superficial. This is not simply because the author assumes no previous technical knowledge, many books engage deeply with issues without having to resort to overly academic language or specialist knowledge. This lack of depth is exacerbated by a tendency to fire volleys of rhetorical questions rather than to attempt to deal with the issues in any substantive way.

The author also displays a na´ve faith that evolutionary psychology might furnish humanity with the tools to create a science of human values. This new science, Georges hopes, would free us of the tyranny of religion, nationalism and blind faith. Unfortunately this looks more like a case of wishful thinking than any thing else. There are those on the right who already use the arguments of evolutionary psychology to bolster the status quo. This is not to question evolutionary psychology as such, any more than one questions evolutionary theory by pointing out that the far-Right use neo-Darwinian arguments to support their politics. It suggests, however, that one cannot ignore the social and political context in which science exists.

Yes, there are difficult choice around the corner, and most people are unprepared for the prospect of intelligent machines, but this book simply is not enough to spark the debate that has yet to really begin in earnest.


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