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"AND""OR"

The Mind vs. the Machine
In 1792 Mary Wollstonecraft in her work A Vindication of the Rights of Woman posed the question, "In what does man's pre-eminence over the brute creation consist?" She answers, "In reason and virtue by which mankind can attain a degree of knowledge." Today, no one would argue that man and woman are not intellectually equal, or that humans have a superior intellectual capacity over the brute creation, but what would they say about humankind versus the machine? We have always felt ourselves superior to animals by our ability to reason -- "to form conclusions, judgments, or inferences from facts or premises"(Random House Dictionary). Philosophers have argued for centuries about what defines reason, now on the dawn of the 21st century this age old question must be revisited. Since the ENIAC, the first mainframe, hummed to life in 1946, the chasm between humankind and machine has appeared to dwindle. Computers have insinuated themselves into the lives of millions of people, taking over the performance of mundane and repetitive tasks. With the constant improvement of computer technology, today's super-computers can outperform the combined brain power of thousands of humans. These machines are so powerful that they can store an essay sixteen billion times longer than this one in active memory. With the development of artificial intelligence software, computers can not only perform tasks at remarkable speed, but can "learn" to respond to situations based on various input. Can these machines ever procure "reason and virtue," or are they simply calculators on steroids? We have now reached the point where we must redefine what constitutes reason in the 21st century. On the intellectual battlefield, in February 1996, thirty-two chess pieces, represented the most recent challenge to the belief that thought is exclusive to humans. Kasparov, the world chess champion, faced off against one of IBM's finest supercomputers, Deep Blue. Chess, a game of logic and reason, would be a perfect test of a computer's ability to "think." In the Information Age battle of David vs. Goliath, the machine clearly had the advantage. Deep Blue is capable of playing out 50- 100 billion positions in the three minutes allotted per turn. Nonetheless, the silicon brain was no match for the cunning intellect of the human mind. Deep Blue lacked the ability to anticipate the moves that Kasparov would make. In preparation for the game, Kasparov adapted a strategy of play unique to the computer. He would not be aggressive. He would not play for a psychological advantage. He would not make moves where pure calculation would be dominant. Kasparov, in fact, found Deep Blue's playing predictable. He could learn the style of play of the computer. The computer could not do the same of his. Deep Blue lacked that intuitive edge which separates the victors from the defeated. On the chess battlefield, man proved what separates it from the "brute creation," or in this case the silicon creation; the ability to reason and intuit. The question remains as to where to draw the line between thought and calculation. Is thought the process by which the answer is reached or the answer itself? Is the intuition and creativity of humankind only a complex algorithm yet to be bestowed on our silicon friends, or has humankind a special gift that continues to separate us from machines. some intangible spirit inside every one of us which separates humankind from the brute creation of electronic circuits...

 



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