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A History of First Step Fallacies

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In the 1960s, without realizing it, AI researchers were hard at work finding the features, rules, and representations needed for turning rationalist philosophy into a research program, and by so doing AI researchers condemned their enterprise to failure. About the same time, a logician, Yehoshua Bar-Hillel, pointed out that AI optimism was based on what he called the “first step fallacy”. First step thinking has the idea of a successful last step built in. Limited early success, however, is not a valid basis for predicting the ultimate success of one’s project. Climbing a hill should not give one any assurance that if he keeps going he will reach the sky. Perhaps one may have overlooked some serious problem lying ahead. There is, in fact, no reason to think that we are making progress towards AI or, indeed, that AI is even possible, in which case claiming incremental progress towards it would make no sense. In current excited waiting for the singularity, religion and technology converge. Hard headed materialists desperately yearn for a world where our bodies no longer have to grow old and die. They will be transformed into information, like Google digitizes old books, and we will achieve the promise of eternal life. As an existential philosopher, however, I suggest that we may have to overcome the desperate desire to digitalize our bodies so as to achieve immortality, and, instead, face up to and maybe even enjoy our embodied finitude.

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Correspondence to Hubert L. Dreyfus.

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Dreyfus, H.L. A History of First Step Fallacies. Minds & Machines 22, 87–99 (2012).

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