Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Metaphysics Part 1: Artificial Intelligence and the question of being vs Being

Like classmate Emma, I’ve also come upon the series “Westworld” as inspiration for my metaphysical questions. Set in a future where artificial intelligence, known as “Hosts”, occupy a virtual reality plane that us “normal” humans can enter. Non-AI’s, referred to by the hosts as “Newcomers”, can kill, maim, traumatize, or fornicate with these Hosts at their own will with no consequence, and the AI’s are powerless to respond in turn. The memories of these AI’s are reset and manipulated daily, leaving them unaware of the brutalities committed against them by the newcomers. Each is designed with a specific purpose in a “story line” on the virtual reality plane, although the plane is reset every few years to a new setting, and their character roles, referred to as their “builds”, are wiped. According to their creators, while they have passed the Turing test with flying colors since their inception and are very human-like, their every thought and memory is programmed into them.

SPOILERS from here. Things begin to complicate themselves when the Hosts develop sentience and awareness of their falsely constructed reality, the ability to lie to their creators, as well as their own independent thought and action. They are no longer only mimicking humanity.

Episode 3 introduces the “Bicameral mind” theory – the psychological theory that the mind can be divided into two aspects. First: your consciously produced, introspective thoughts that contain reason and the ability to consider your role in the universe and question the nature of your reality and senses, and second: another aspect that simply listens and obeys an unknown voice based on your own instincts. According to this theory, the “voices of God(s)” described in many ancient epics and religious texts are the voice of the bicameral mind. Think Homer’s Iliad vs Homer’s the Odyssey. If a human being begins to ask “Why are we here on this earth? What is our role, who am I truly?” then these are products of the first aspect. Whereas the robot’s in Westworld operate solely on the second aspect, obeying their instincts and thoughts that are programmed into them, reacting the way they are programmed to. Although in this case, programmed not by God, but by humans. However, the bicameral mind theory also states that eventually an outside force will drive the development of the first aspect. This, this is what happens to the AI in Westworld.

This begets the following questions: although all of the questions are based on the premise that the creation of artificial intelligence that can pass the Turing Test and go even further than it is an inevitable fact of our future.

1. How would Martin Heidegger’s theory of being vs Being accommodate artificial intelligence?

What If an AI evolves outside its own programming, develops the ability to question its own existence, feels as we feel and understands as we understand? Does it then, still, constitute a being rather than a Being? Are only organic, biological humans capable of Being?

The idea that only organic intelligence can constitute Being contradicts the idea that capital B Being is about much more than biology, than the sum of our parts. Yet, one could argue that Artificial Intelligence is by its own nature incapable of Being as it is but a product of its own programming; if it undergoes evolution, it is only due to its programming. Yet, some would argue that even human beings are nothing but a product of our own programming due to either the blueprints of biology or a higher power.

2. Can Artificial Intelligence develop “Self” in the philosophical sense? Do they exist in the same way humans do?

This Unit on Metaphysics has explored various theories on what the “self” is. However, what I have found most interesting is the recent topic of Jean Paul Sartre’s “Existence Precedes Essence” vs Descartes idea that “Essence precedes existence”. According to Sartre, humans have no “essence” or innate “human nature”. We merely exist and there is no innate essence or meaning to this. Unlike a knife or a pair of scissors, we were not constructed to serve a specific purpose. For scissors, essence precedes existence.

However, Descartes argues that humans are creatures of God, given an “essence” by God. Therefore, essence precedes existences if we are children of God. How does this relate to Artificial Intelligence you may ask? Well, for AI essence precedes existence. Artificial Intelligence will be constructed by humanity, given an essence by humanity. Therefore, according to Satre, they would not be equivalent to humans. They would have the same level of self as a pair of scissors, for their existence is a means to an end via a predetermined essence. However, if we subscribe to Descartes idea, then Artificial Intelligence can exist in the same way as humans, human beings functioning as God to AI.

3. If Artificial Intelligence can have a self, can be Beings rather than beings, do they therefore have the same right to life and liberty as we do? Are they then equivalent to us? If they don’t, if Artificial Intelligence can only ever mimic human mind and consciousness, where do we stand then?

If you subscribe to the idea that AI can have an idea of “self”, if they can Be, than I would say that it is a natural conclusion that they deserve the same treatment and recognition as we do. I foresee this becoming a major issue once we do have human-like AI, as not everyone will agree on whether they truly exist in the same right as we do.

However, even if they don’t, I find the idea of using AI that only experience the primitive sector of the bicameral mind as the recipients of depraved human fantasies such as the acts committed upon them in Westworld to be deplorable. In the very first episode of the show the main character, Dolores, is strongly implied to have been raped by the Man in Black. Even if her memory is wiped on the daily, even if she’s technically not a “person” at that point, I still believe that it is morally reprehensible to use intelligent life in such a fashion.


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