The problem of meaning in AI: Still with us after all these years

I was invited to give a talk at the “Programs, minds and machines” workshop, which will be hosted jointly by the Mathematics and the Philosophy Research Institutes of UNAM, August 6-9, 2018.

The problem of meaning in AI: Still with us after all these years

Tom Froese

In recent years there has been a lot of excitement about the possibilities of advanced artificial intelligence that could rival the human mind. I cast doubt on this prospect by reviewing past revolutions in cognitive robotics, specifically the shift toward situated robotics in the 90s and the shift toward a dynamical approach in the 00s. I argue that despite claims to the contrary, these revolutions did not manage to overcome the fundamental problem of meaning that was first identified in the context of various theoretical and practical problems faced by Good Old-Fashioned AI. Even after billions of dollars of investment, today’s computers simply do not understand anything. I argue for a paradigm shift in the field: the aim should not be to replicate the human mind in autonomous systems, but to help it realize its full potential via interfaces.


Life is precious because it is precarious

I was invited to contribute a chapter to the book Representation and Reality in Humans, Animals and Machines edited by Gordana Dodig-Crnkovic and Raffaela Giovagnoli to be published by Springer.

Life is precious because it is precarious: Individuality, mortality, and the problem of meaning

Tom Froese

Computationalism aspires to provide a comprehensive theory of life and mind. It fails in this task because it lacks the conceptual tools to address the problem of meaning. I argue that a meaningful perspective is enacted by an individual with a potential that is intrinsic to biological existence: death. Life matters to such an individual because it must constantly create the conditions of its own existence, which is unique and irreplaceable. For that individual to actively adapt, rather than to passively disintegrate, expresses a value inherent in its way of life, which is the ultimate source of more refined forms of normativity. This response to the problem of meaning will not satisfy those searching for a functionalist or logical solution, but on this view such a solution will not be forthcoming. As an intuition pump for this alternative perspective I introduce two ancient foreign worldviews that assign a constitutive role to death. Then I trace the emergence of a similar conception of mortality from the cybernetics era to the ongoing development of enactive cognitive science. Finally, I analyze why orthodox computationalism has failed to grasp the role of mortality in this constitutive way.

And with kind help of Laura Rodríguez Benavidez a Spanish version is also available.