Quote of Tomorrow

As far as real science is concerned, we are as likely to create C3PO, or any other self-aware, talking, thinking and acting computer, as we are to create the Tin Woodman of Oz by the process of chopping off one body part at a time until all are replaced by the tinsmith (as described by L Frank Baum, the Royal Historian of Oz, in a grisliness odd for a children’s book.)

Despite the eagerness with which modern materialists confuse the objects on which symbols are inscribed, or to which symbolic meaning is attributed, with the material object itself, in their eagerness to pretend we are all Tin Woodmen, in reality even the most advanced of computers neither reflects nor cogitates nor acts of its own volition, no, not even so much as an amoeba acts.

One of my correspondents in a debate on this point solemnly proclaimed that the computers of the future would be self aware.

He was as confident as Robert Heinlein predicting the discovery of life on Mars. He seemed to forget that, as a science fiction writer, I am one of the unscrupulous ilk of story tellers who both made up the idea of talking computers and used our arts of deception to make them seem realistic. We did the same thing for flying cars, which are possible, and for time machines and faster than light drives, which are not possible.

As a lawyer, I admit it would be nice to call to the stand witnesses not yet born or introduce evidence not yet in existence. I could then describe to the gullible jury anything I wished the witness to have said. He would describe World War Three in great detail, or the invasions of the tripodal Martian War machines crewed by Sorns and Tharks.

The logic here seems a little elliptical. Since the computers of the future, which neither I nor any living being has ever had seen, will one day be capable of self-aware thought, therefore I should believe that computers now must be self aware merely at a more primitive level, and therefore should believe my brain was nothing more than a computer, and my soul and mind nothing more than my brain, an organic mechanism without intentionality or free will or imagination — or without anything else I distinctly and immediately perceive and suffer and do.

Determinists believe, in effect, that we do not make decisions, so I am aways puzzled why determinists so patiently spend their efforts in trying to persuade me to decide to be a determinist. None seems to accept my explanation that I am programmed in inescapably to believe in free will, and have no choice in the matter.

I did not answer my correspondent, being, for once, at a loss for words. I did, however, stumble by accident across this quote by GK Chesterton, which seems apposite to the point:

THE truth is that all feeble spirits naturally live in the future, because it is featureless; it is a soft job; you can make it what you like. The next age is blank, and I can paint it freshly with my favourite colour. It requires real courage to face the past, because the past is full of facts which cannot be got over; of men certainly wiser than we, and of things done which we could not do. I know I cannot write a poem as good as ‘Lycidas.’ But it is always easy to say that the particular sort of poetry I can write will be the poetry of the future.

And if, for poetry, you substitute technology, you will have a keen insight into the philosophy of both materialists and transhumanists, who are so confident that tomorrow will reduce to practice things currently thought impossible.