Stanley Fish on Watson the Supercomputer and Rules

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/21/what-did-watson-the-computer-do/?ref=opinion

Interesting, his assertion that computers don’t start from a Wittgenstinian ‘form of life’.  Neosentient computers would, and that’s precicely why they’re exciting.

What computers can’t do, we don’t have to do because  the worlds we live in are already built; we  don’t walk around putting discrete items together until they add up to  a context; we walk around with a contextual sense — a sense of where we are and what’s at stake and what our resources are — already in place;  we  inhabit worldly spaces already organized by purposes, projects and expectations. The computer inhabits nothing and has no purposes and because it has no purposes it cannot alter its present (wholly predetermined) “behavior” when it  fails to advance the purposes it doesn’t have. When as human beings we determine that  “the data coming in make no sense”  relative to what we want to do, we can, Dreyfus explains “try a new total hypothesis,” begin afresh. A computer, in contrast, “could at best be programmed to try out a series of hypotheses to see which best fit the fixed data.”

Fish draws a line between computation and (though he doesn’t use this term) sentience.  How might we invoke this computation?  The contingency of large possibility-space interfaces in a network-brain (see my emergence through autonomy post) could generate the flexibility that Fish speaks of.  Watson, as impressive as it is, is still a hardwired network of binary processing chips.  If we could make the unit of processing a much more complicated thing, a simulated neuron, we’d be much more likely to engender the system with the properties of living systems.

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