Computers, Information Technology, the Internet, Ethics, Society and Human Values

Philip Pecorino, Ph.D.

Queensborough Community College,  CUNY

Chapter 13 Artificial Intelligence and Being Human


Artificial Intelligence and the creations of devices and humanoid forms that made use of such intelligence had been nearly confined to the realm of the imagination before the advent of the electronic form of computing devices.  Now there is not only the existence of machines that appear to evidence some of the behaviors in humans that are associated with intelligence but there are serious projects underway to create machines that will evidence more and more of what it is in humans that is identified as intelligence.  In addition the speculation as to the origins of consciousness and the investiture of basic rights in human life has now gone beyond the realm of thought into the realm of action and the creation of large scale projects that might some day display evidence of the last vestiges of what humans have been claiming is so significantly unique about human life apart from the genetic code.

There is evidence that for thousands of years humans have thought about the possibility of human like forms created by humans and human like machines or automatons capable of some forms of action or motion.  There is some evidence of attempts to create such.

Humanoid robots existed in ancient civilizations - 23-Sep-2006

Now as to what is Artificial Intelligence or AI please       READ Artificial Intelligence

See also: What is Artificial intelligence?

What is Artificial Intelligence? An essay by John McCarthy, a founder of the field.

As work proceeds to create new forms of artificial intelligence and forms that attempt to duplicate more and more of what it is that humans do with involving thought, there are discussions of the need for humans to proceed with caution while considering carefully the implications of such research and creations on the human community.  There must be cautious regard for the impact of AI creations on humans' self conceptions and sense of worth.  The consequences of changes involving AI may be quite considerable on so fundamental a set of ideas and on the core social institutions that have resulted from human beings thinking of themselves in ways that are now being challenged by the developments of entities with intelligence that approaches the equal of human beings or even intelligence levels that would surpass what humans are currently comparable of demonstrating.

With respect to social consequences, I believe that every researcher has some responsibility to assess, and try to inform others of, the possible social consequences of the research products he is trying to create.- Simon, Herbert A. 1991. Models of My Life. New York, NY: Basic Books.

There are projects that are ongoing and growing located all over the planet aimed at the development of various forms of artificial intelligence and machinery guided by such artificial intelligence programs. Machines of various types are utilized in many industries and even in homes that have forms of artificial intelligence operating within them.  There are toys being marketed for the amusement of children that have computer programs within them that cause mimicking of human actions and speech. There are even machines that are programmed to build other machines.  Some of the basic criteria that biologists have used for centuries to distinguish living forms from the non-living are being challenged by machinery automated with artificial intelligence.   The warnings issued in numerous works of science fiction novels and short stories and even in films appear not to have prevented researchers from advancing the development of the capabilities of machines.  It would appear that humans have already arrived at a point where there is the actual specter of machines challenging humans and attempting to replace humans or to control or eliminate humans for either the good of the humans or for the good or purposes of the machines.  Will humans soon face Terminators?

Some humans are quite wary of developments in artificial intelligence and would caution against further research and development.

Is it not that intelligence is the essence of existing as a human being? There is no necessity to push our alienation from values and thinking to its limit. But who knows what technological madness mankind is destined to face in the future...Attila Narin   in The Myths of Artificial Intelligence

Another warning about one possibility of the development and use of AI comes from a notorious source. Theodore Kaczynski is known to the world now as the "Unabomber".  He is currently in prison.  As part of his agreement to speak he asked that newspapers carry his Unabomber Manifesto, which was published jointly, under duress, by The New York Times and The Washington Post.  In it is a dystopian scenario:


First let us postulate that the computer scientists succeed in developing intelligent machines that can do all things better than human beings can do them. In that case presumably all work will be done by vast, highly organized systems of machines and no human effort will be necessary. Either of two cases might occur. The machines might be permitted to make all of their own decisions without human oversight, or else human control over the machines might be retained.

If the machines are permitted to make all their own decisions, we can't make any conjectures as to the results, because it is impossible to guess how such machines might behave. We only point out that the fate of the human race would be at the mercy of the machines. It might be argued that the human race would never be foolish enough to hand over all the power to the machines. But we are suggesting neither that the human race would voluntarily turn power over to the machines nor that the machines would willfully seize power. What we do suggest is that the human race might easily permit itself to drift into a position of such dependence on the machines that it would have no practical choice but to accept all of the machines' decisions. As society and the problems that face it become more and more complex and machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make more of their decisions for them, simply because machine-made decisions will bring better results than man-made ones. Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage the machines will be in effective control. People won't be able to just turn the machines off, because they will be so dependent on them that turning them off would amount to suicide.

On the other hand it is possible that human control over the machines may be retained. In that case the average man may have control over certain private machines of his own, such as his car or his personal computer, but control over large systems of machines will be in the hands of a tiny elite - just as it is today, but with two differences. Due to improved techniques the elite will have greater control over the masses; and because human work will no longer be necessary the masses will be superfluous, a useless burden on the system. If the elite is ruthless they may simply decide to exterminate the mass of humanity. If they are humane they may use propaganda or other psychological or biological techniques to reduce the birth rate until the mass of humanity becomes extinct, leaving the world to the elite. Or, if the elite consists of soft-hearted liberals, they may decide to play the role of good shepherds to the rest of the human race. They will see to it that everyone's physical needs are satisfied, that all children are raised under psychologically hygienic conditions, that everyone has a wholesome hobby to keep him busy, and that anyone who may become dissatisfied undergoes "treatment" to cure his "problem." Of course, life will be so purposeless that people will have to be biologically or psychologically engineered either to remove their need for the power process or make them "sublimate" their drive for power into some harmless hobby. These engineered human beings may be happy in such a society, but they will most certainly not be free. They will have been reduced to the status of domestic animals.

On the other hand there are those who promote the advancement of artificial intelligence and even of artificial life forms.

Ray Kurzweil offers a rather positive view of a future where humans work closely with various forms of AI in programs and machines (robots). In his The Age of Spiritual Machines he outlines a utopia - one in which humans gain near immortality by becoming one with robotic technology.

Consider the Arguments for a Strong AI  by Edmund Furse  who attempts to convince us that  one day there will be intelligent robots on earth and to argue that the robots will also have a religious life just as people do in his Theology of Robots.

No job is too unusual for a breed of robots that reinvent themselves

IMAGINE AN AUTOMATON that can design itself, assemble itself and even kill itself. No, it's not the liquid metal robot from Terminator 2-but this droid can certainly build itself to perform a particular task, melt itself down and recycle itself, say researchers in Massachusetts.  --A droid for all seasons  

How close are we to machines that can think as humans do?  Some say quite close and a few say that for most of what humans can do with their intellect the machines are already here.

Finally, machines might soon start to think for themselves.--Justin Mullins from

Whatever happened to machines that think  by Justin Mullins 23 April 2005  in New Scientist Print Edition

Not only is the work proceeding on machines that can think in many or most or even all the ways in which humans think there is also work on machines that are being designed in the hope that they will display evidence of being conscious of themselves !

Any sci-fi buff knows that when computers become self-aware, they ultimately destroy their creators. From 2001: A Space Odyssey to Terminator, the message is clear: The only good self-aware machine is an unplugged one. We may soon find out whether that's true. ... But what about HAL 9000 and the other fictional computers that have run amok? "In any kind of technology there are risks," [Ron] Brachman acknowledges. That's why DARPA is reaching out to neurologists, psychologists - even philosophers - as well as computer scientists. "We're not stumbling down some blind alley," he says. "We're very cognizant of these issues."
- Good Morning, Dave...   The Defense Department is working on a self-aware computer. By Kathleen Melymuka. Computerworld (November 11, 2002)   We ahve this from the
american association for artificial intelligence 

There are numerous works of science fiction and movies and television series that have had robots in human form, androids.  These robots or thinking machines have been mistaken for being human or have acquired so many human traits as to be deemed worthy of being accorded human rights! e.g., 

  • Gadget from Short Circuit

  • Robot in Terminator

  • Small Wonder TV show

  • AI   (2001) David

  • The Matrix

  • 2001 A Space Odyssey  HAL

  • Alien  androids, including Bishop

  • Star Wars droids

READ  Artificial Intelligence in Fiction   which lists a variety of themes in fiction involving AI and a number of examples including TV and Cinema.


The Matrix! by Huang Hai  (CUNY, 2006)

Wow I think of all the movies, this one tops the list, probably box office-wise as well.  The movie boils down to:  Humanity develops true artificial intelligence and androids, AI becomes self-aware and demands basic rights (comparison and reference is made to African American slaves in human history).  Humanity does not grant the request and starts instead to destroy the machines.  A lot of the androids were able to escape and created it's own country somewhere in the Middle East.  Then due to pure machine efficiency, manages to out-do all other 'human' countries in terms of national GDP.  Out of pure economic jealousy and fear of eventual destruction by the 'robots', humans unite and start a war against the robot country.  The war is looking grim for the humans, quick, especially since machines have infinite patience and pure logic on their side.  Thus some 'brilliant' people thought of an idea and humans then, BLACKENS (completely covers) the sky to stop the machines from harvesting solar energy (the machine's main energy supply).  We all know the rest of the story as the movie starts off right after that point on, as humans becomes, equals, Duracell batteries to the machines.

There are so many moral, ethical and social issues here I don't even know where to start.  The main and first problem was probably that, humans did not even consider applying ethics or moral principles to the machines, which to them were just machines.  That was the catalyst for the start of the eventual downfall of mankind, or at least until Keanu Reeves came along...

For the detail story, see:  It is VERY interesting, at least I think so. 

p.s.      For those of you who don't know, the pre-Matrix story is available on DVD as The Animatrix,


Well ,when the day actually arrives that such machines have been created and do function in that manner as to be mistaken for being human, thinkers,  such as Alan Turing, believe we will have all the evidence that we would need that we have no non-physical minds.   With no non-physical mind and only a brain to account for all that we associate with thinking and consciousness then it is possible to conceive of and to imagine and to construct some other physical entity that might do what a brain does and then the possibility that consciousness might emerge from the complexity of the information processing that this device would be performing.  So then, will machines become conscious and if they do then what?  Will they be entitled to all the rights of the only other conscious entities we know about: Humans?

Conscious Machines. An essay by Marvin Minsky.

Wait not so fast!  How do we know that machines can think at all let alone that they are or might become conscious?  Well there is the Turing Test.


The Turing Test was introduced by Alan M. Turing (1912-1954) as "the imitation game" in his 1950 article (now available online) Computing Machinery and Intelligence (Mind, Vol. 59, No. 236, pp. 433-460) which he so boldly began by the following sentence:

I propose to consider the question "Can machines think?" This should begin with definitions of the meaning of the terms "machine" and "think."

Turing Test is meant to determine if a computer program has intelligence. Quoting Turing, the original imitation game can be described as follows:

The new form of the problem can be described in terms of a game which we call the "imitation game." It is played with three people, a man (A), a woman (B), and an interrogator (C) who may be of either sex. The interrogator stays in a room apart from the other two. The object of the game for the interrogator is to determine which of the other two is the man and which is the woman. He knows them by labels X and Y, and at the end of the game he says either "X is A and Y is B" or "X is B and Y is A." The interrogator is allowed to put questions to A and B.

When talking about the Turing Test today what is generally understood is the following: The interrogator is connected to one person and one machine via a terminal, therefore can't see her counterparts. Her task is to find out which of the two candidates is the machine, and which is the human only by asking them questions. If the machine can "fool" the interrogator, it is intelligent.

This test has been subject to different kinds of criticism and has been at the heart of many discussions in AI, philosophy and cognitive science for the past 50 years.

Other Bodies, Other Minds: A Machine Incarnation of an Old Philosophical Problem Harnad, S. (1991) "Other bodies, Other minds: A machine incarnation of an old philosophical problem", Minds and Machines 1: 43-54. 

How difficult would it be for consciousness to be manifest in some entity that was created by human beings and given information processing abilities using computerization? This is one of the biggest questions for Philosophers and neuroscientists and computer designers and engineers working on the issue of Artificial Intelligence. For example see CONSCIOUSNESS: AN AFTERTHOUGHT by Stevan Harnad

Now that we are engaged in the process of developing computers and thinking machines to assist human beings what are the ethical issues and what are the values that are involved in the discussions and in the developments of these devices?

Artificial Intelligence and Human Morality   Do androids deserve human rights?


What if consciousness is a property that emerges from complex systems that process information and can and do monitor themselves as feedback ?  What if humans build androids that appear to manifest consciousness?  Would it be morally acceptable to unplug them or destroy them?




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Web Surfer's Caveat: These are class notes, intended to comment on readings and amplify class discussion. They should be read as such. They are not intended for publication or general distribution.                @copyright 2006 Philip A. Pecorino                       

Last updated 12-2006                                                              Return to Table of Contents