A Phone Conversation

By Paul Syers

Hey Mom. 

Sure, I can talk about computers with you for a bit, why do you ask?

Stuff on the news?

Oh right. Yeah, everyone’s talking about machines that can think. 

No they’re not going to take over, mom.  It’ll be ok. 

Because, we can make the computers think however we want.

That’s where a lot of the news is getting it wrong.  We aren’t trying to make computers think like us — I mean some others are, but not us.  We’re trying to make them think as well as us, on the same level. That’s different.

If they don’t HAVE to think like us, then they don’t have to have all the flaws people have, like hatred, jealousy, and other things.

Ok, let me try to give you an example.  It’s like with cars.  There are cars that run on gas, but there are also electric cars that are starting to become popular, right? There are other types of cars too, I even read about this crazy car that just runs on compressed air. These cars all do the same thing, they move wheels to transport us places, but the ways they do it are totally different.  So, worrying about machines taking over is like worrying that electric cars will have all the problems inherent with using gasoline.  The things you have to worry about with electric cars aren’t necessarily better or worse than the things you have to worry about with gas powered cars, they’re different.

No, I’m not saying they won’t have ANY problems, the some problems might be similar, others might be totally new.  All I’m saying is that we’re not just trying to recreate HUMAN intelligence; we’re trying to create ANY kind of intelligence.  The slate is blank!  Sure it might turn out that the way our species thinks is the only way something can think, but we don’t know that for sure.

I think it would be pretty cool to try and find out.  We gotta experiment before we know for sure one way or the other.  And even if we fail, we are already learning some really cool stuff along the way.

Well that’s fine, you don’t have to get one when they come out.

Oh, some people say your retirement community is going to get some?

Yeah you say that now, but don’t be so sure.  It’s not about what they’re made of, it’s about how they think, what they’re capable of.

Remember your old neighbor who immigrated from the other side of the world? Shortly after she moved in, you said that she was odd, but then you got to know her and learned about her family and culture.  A couple years later, you told me that your relationship with her helped you see a new way of looking at things.  Some new foods and new ways of doing things that you never would have thought of, but you now love.  And that’s just differences in thinking that came about from different cultures.  Just think of the kinds of crazy, cool things that intelligent machines might be able to think up, if they don’t use the same thought processes or the same combinations of emotions as us.

Yeah, I don’t know why everyone’s saying we should be scared. I think they’re all assuming that everyone — every THING — has to think like them.  Options are never as limited as we initially think.

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