Minds and Machines

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 107–120

Comments on ‘How Would You Know If You Synthesized A Thinking Thing’



In their Minds and Machines essay How would you know if you synthesized a Thinking Thing? (Kary & Mahner, Minds and Machines, 12(1), 61–86, 2002), Kary and Mahner have chosen to occupy a high ground of materialism and empiricism from which to attack the philosophical and methodological positions of believers in artificial intelligence (AI) and artificial life (AL). In this review I discuss some of their main arguments as well as their philosophical foundations. Their central argument: ‘AI is Platonism’, which is based on a particular interpretation of the notion of ‘definition’ and used as a critique against AI, can be counter criticized from two directions: first, Anti-Platonism is not a necessary precondition for criticizing AI, because outspoken Platonist criticism against AI is already known (Penrose, The emperor’s new mind (with a foreword by M. Gardner), 1989). Second, even in case that AI would essentially be ‘Platonism’ this would not be a sufficient argument for proving AI wrong. In my counter criticism I assume a more or less Popperian position by emphasizing the openness of the future: Not by quasi-Scholastic arguments (like Kary and Mahner’s), but only after being confronted with a novel ‘thinking thing’ by future AI engineers we can start to analyze its particular properties (Let me use a history analogon to illustrate my position: In the 19th century, mechanized aviation was widely regarded impossible—only natural organisms (such as birds or bees) could fly, and any science of aerodynamics or aviation did not exist. Only after some non-scientific technicians had confronted their astonished fellows with the first (obviously) flying machine the science of ‘Artificial Aviation’ came into existence, motivated by the need for understanding and mastering that challenging and puzzling new phenomenon).


AI AL Brain Mind Matter Computability Turing Test Functionalism Operationalism Organism Idealism Platonism Science of nature 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Computer ScienceUniversity of PretoriaPretoriaRepublic of South-Africa

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