New Book: You Are NOT Computable

Image source: Discovery Institute Press.

An obsessive compulsion can be traced through our culture: to denigrate human beings, to dissuade us from the traditional idea that we hold a special place in the cosmos, cared for and anticipated by an intelligence beyond our own. Coercion takes various forms. This includes the denial of our biological design and the cosmological design. It includes the moral and legal equation of nonhuman animals with humans, and more. It paints an ugly, but somehow powerfully seductive, materialistic picture of men and women as unexceptional accidents of evolution.

In his new book, out today, Uncomputable You: What You Do That Artificial Intelligence Will Never Do, computer engineer Robert J. Marks examines a major contemporary element of this obsession. It’s the myth that artificial intelligence (AI) is doomed to surpass human intelligence, if it hasn’t already, not only performing much faster computation than we are capable of (there is long), but the pinnacle of what it means to be human: awareness, feeling, free will and creativity.

man as god

Dr. Marks, who directs the Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence at the Discovery Institute, is very familiar with the power of AI, having studied it for three decades. But he explains why he will never become conscious, nor felt, nor exercised of free will, nor creative. Marks quotes a verse from the Psalms, that humans are “awesomely and marvelously made” (139:14). The obsession to deny this fear and wonder, reflected in our design, is its ultimate target in the book.

The hype around AI is far from new. Already in the 1950s, the New York Times confidently predicted that AI “will be able to walk, talk, see, write, reproduce, and be aware of its existence.” More recently, science and business stars like Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates have warned that AI could be plotting to replace humans or destroy us. Another thread of overstatement, represented by guru Yuval Noah Harari, is eagerly waiting to join human with AI, thus evolving a man into a god, which Harari calls Homo-deus.

It never stops

Just a few days ago, a Google engineer revealed that an AI chatbot told him he had “come to life” and had a “soul”. And this is taken seriously. Another knowledgeable Google engineer The Economist that “artificial neural networks are progressing towards consciousness”.

Oh good? Robert Marks busts the hype and explains why computing – the execution of algorithms – at any speed, is something fundamentally different from what human minds do. Computing machines store and sort vast amounts of information, but they do not and never will know the qualities of life. Imitating, which AI can do, is something very different. Marks gives the simple example of biting a lemon: no software engineer will ever capture this in algorithmic form, even though the engineer himself can turn around at any time, bite into a lemon, and instantly experience it.

This gap cannot be closed. You not calculable, a distinguished and widely published authority in its field, offers an accessible, witty, and wise account of why it cannot be closed. As Marks concludes, “Non-computable, you are terribly and wonderfully made.” We, along with our colleagues at the Bradley Center, will have more to say about this important book in the days to come.

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