Why You Can't Make a Computer that Feels Pain
Dennett (Daniel)
Source: Dennett - Brainstorms - Philosophical Essays on Mind and Psychology, Chapter 11
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. It has seemed important to many people to claim that computers cannot in principle duplicate various human feats, activities, happenings. Such aprioristic claims, we have learned, have an embarrassing history of subsequent falsification. Contrary to recently held opinion, for instance, computers can play superb checkers and good chess, can produce novel and unexpected proofs of nontrivial theorems, can conduct sophisticated conversations in ordinary if tightly circumscribed English.
  2. The materialist or computerphile who grounds an uncomplicated optimism in this ungraceful retreat of the skeptics, however, is in danger of installing conceptual confusion in the worst place, in the foundations of his own ascendant view of the mind. The triumphs of Artificial Intelligence have been balanced by failures and false starts.
  3. Some have asked if there is a pattern to be discerned here. Keith Gunderson has pointed out that the successes have been with task-oriented, sapient features of mentality, the failures and false starts with sentient features of mentality, and has developed a distinction between program-receptive and program resistant features of mentality.
  4. Gunderson's point is not what some have hoped. Some have hoped he had found a fall-back position for them: viz., maybe machines can think but they can't feel. His point is rather that the task of getting a machine to feel is a very different task from getting it to think; in particular it is not a task that invites solution simply by sophisticated innovations in programming, but rather, if at all, by devising new sorts of hardware.
  5. This goes some way to explaining the recalcitrance of mental features like pain to computer simulation, but not far enough. Since most of the discredited aprioristic thinking about the limitations of computers can be seen in retrospect to have stumbled over details, I propose to conduct a more detailed than usual philosophic thought experiment1. Let us imagine setting out to prove the skeptic wrong about pain by actually writing a pain program, or designing a pain-feeling robot. I think the complications encountered will prove instructive.

Comment:

Part III. Objects of Consciousness and the Nature of Experience.

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