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Inspiring Face to Face 4 June Jun 2018 0830 4 June 2018

Artificial intelligence vs. Natural intelligence. Who will win?

On one side the mathematician Roger Penrose. On the other side the philosopher Emanuele Severino. A double lesson by two masters of thought to understand future scenarios: philosophical, but also practical.

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In 1988, Hans Moravec ventured a prediction. According to some excessively optimistic, according to others, technically unfounded. In Mind Children. The future of robot and Human Intelligence, the Austro-Canadian futurologist and lecturer at the Robotic Institute of the Carnegie Mellon University, determined that the point of «human equivalence» would arrive in 2030.

What is the point of human equivalence? It is the time when the artificial mind reaches the levels of complexity and power of the natural mind. Getting ready to surpass it.

Utopia? Hope? Fear? Thirty years after publication of the influential work of Moravec, there are few who believe that on the basis of the accelerating power of calculation even of domestic appliances and the enormous mass of data present on the social networks, data processable in real time by these machines, the convergence point is not really so close.

On the contrary, Roger Penrose and Emanuele Severino are moving along different paths and describe different scenarios. Neither critical, nor enthusiastic on Artificial intelligence vs. Natural intelligence which on 12 May saw them in the spotlight in Milan, in front of more than 800 young people, their thoughts concentrated on the fundamentals on which AI is based and moves: is it "real” intelligence? Should we be afraid of it?

Roger Penrose and Emanuele Severino

Centro Congressi Cariplo, Milan, May 12th 2018

The expression AI is used to describe devices that are thought to reproduce activities that require human intelligence.

Roger Penrose, British professor emeritus of Oxford university, mathematician, physicist and cosmologist

One of the most eminent mathematicians in the world, Sir Roger Penrose, observes how «technological acceleration, evolution of machine learning, Big Data and algorithms are not enough to declare the triumph of artificial intelligence over natural or human intelligence». Teacher and then colleague of Stephen Hawking, with whom he developed the famous theorems on singularities, Penrose has urged us to redefine the question in other terms.

First of all, observes Penrose, the question is of a logical nature. Penrose bases his thought on a particular interpretation of the theorems of Gödel to assert the impossibility of «intelligent machines». But, above all, for the professor emeritus of Oxford University, in addition to being one of the most influential mathematicians, physicists and cosmologists, the question is of a physical nature.

«Our mind, the human mind», says Penrose, «is not algorithmic in the processes that it performs. We still know little about these processes, but what we do know is that we cannot interpret them in terms of rigid schemes».

If awareness is the field which artificial intelligence cannot arrive at, the production of awareness becomes the question.

Emanuele Severino, Italian philosopher and academic

So for Roger Penrose, then, the point of «human equivalence is not only remote but might not arrive or will not arrive in the terms in which we imagine it». But, above all, «what we call Artificial Intelligence is not real intelligence. Only human intelligence is the real thing».

The abuse of the term is not only linguistic. The term «artificial intelligence» according to Roger Penrose «is misleading and not without social implications and consequences. The problem lies entirely here». Assimilating extremely complex processes, still largely unknown, like those that define conscience, awareness and consequently intelligence that is actually human, we fall into the trap of reductionism. Likewise negating space (of social recognition) for creativity and innovation.

If Roger Penrose, developing the thesis of his best-sellers The Emperor’s New Mind and Shadows of the mind, concentrated on the logical and scientific prerequisites and inconsistencies of the current debate on artificial intelligence, Emanuele Severino, one of the main theoretical philosophers of our time, whose work is also beginning to receive attention in the Anglo-Saxon world (cfr. the recent publication of The Essence of Nihilism, Verso 2016), has instead focused attention on the consequences.

Severino recalled how everything arises from a conceptual framework which can be traced to the concept of "production" (in Greek: poiesis) or to use the words of Plato. «The West is moving along this path: poiesis is the cause that makes everything pass from non-existence to existence». So for Severino the question is to interpret within long term philosophical categories. The same categories that determine not only our view of the world, but the idea itself that «the world, and therefore man, and therefore intelligence, can be entirely manipulated».

If real intelligence, natural intelligence, is defined in terms of the qualities of conscience and, even more, as stated by Roger Penrose, of the qualities of awareness, then, as concluded by Emanuele Severino, «awareness is the field which artificial intelligence cannot reach and the production of awareness becomes the crucial question of our time».

Digital and social innovation, added Penrose, arise precisely from this element: from the unfathomable and unreproducible human awareness. In conclusion, there will always be room for man, even in the world of machines.

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