General Musings / Philosophy

Internal Language and Intelligence: Where Is Moral Consciousness?

The emergence of scientific technology, the investigative method that applies experimental results to develop and resolve a vast portfolio of existing problems has certainly benefited human civilisation, from electricity to medicine all of which has simplified our capacity to live longer and fuller lives. In stark contrast, however, it is also undeniable that the ramification of scientific innovation has increased the probability of existential threats such as global warming, ecological destruction and nuclear war. Capitalism and the ruthless force of consumerism and globalisation appear to have locked humanity in an unprecedented cycle that with the intricate web of inequitable wealth distribution, poverty and warfare, one questions what ‘advancement’ actually implies. To resolve these failures, futurists allege that the solution is found in innovative technological designs that envision a world without illness or violence, one such theory being technological singularity.

David Chalmers simplifies an explanation of the theory, namely that if we are able to create AI+ or an artificially intelligent machine that is superior to any human intellect, that machine may therefore be capable of designing AI++ or an artificially intelligent machine with an intelligence that is far more superior then our existing human capacity.[1] Thus, the AI++ being of superior intelligence can continue to revolutionise technology beyond the scope of human awareness. This explosion of knowledge will lead to technological advancements that predict concepts like immortality, environmental sustainability, time travel and the collapse of Moore’s law that will ultimately allow us to reach a state of utopia. Such technological advances naturally leads to a plethora of ethical, philosophical and scientific questions, particularly the consequences should we ever reach a state of singularity for humanity in general. Think of eugenics and whether it would lead to human extinction if we fail to live to the standards required by AI++?

Like Quantum Mechanics, singularity is mostly speculation however useful as it raises important axiological concerns, but for me it raises special attention to the concept of intelligence that ultimately leads to theories of moral consciousness and what essentially makes a ‘human’. Does intelligence contain properties, is it language, aesthetics or as Einstein said, “I believe in intuition and inspiration. Imagination is more important than knowledge.”[2] I have always assumed human intelligence to merely be the cognitive capacity of the brain and that we can measure the agility of the mind and its capacity to comprehend, but this is why Einstein is correct about imagination in that this feature we have can furnish the creativity necessary to be human, to not merely absorb and reiterate information but to actually think. Yet I regularly find myself gobsmacked at how intelligent people would consistently behave irrationally and I would often find myself doubting our autonomy. Jean-Jacques Rousseau would agree: “Society has enfeebled man.” There is something that plays a crucial role in cognition, something intuitive and incommunicable, which I believe to be our capacity to place value in abstract concepts. The interpretation of parables is one such example of this abstract intellectual domain whereby like aesthetics or the philosophy of art, without any direct illustration of its purpose or point, language is used as a framework to describe conclusions dependent on the subjective interpretation of the reader. Biblical allegories illustrate from a hermeneutic angle that the implicit and ambiguous nonetheless contain meaning dependent on the subjective interpretation and should one be incapable of translating the purpose or message, the narrative itself would appear completely absurd. “This narrative acts as an extended metaphor in which the plot or events reveal a meaning beyond what occurs in the text, creating a moral, spiritual, or even political meaning.”[3]

From a psychological perspective, Howard Gardner purports there to be multiple levels of intelligence, eight to be precise that can be measured.[4] They include a variety of features such as visual or spatial, logical or mathematical, and naturalist and as such his critique elucidated a theory of mind that there exists no concrete profile of intelligence as is often correlated with IQ tests and other general theories that allege autonomy of an intellectual domain. Thus, our environment, culture and biology activate what we already possess and we become more engaged in particular areas of competency subject to experience. As said by Einstein, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” His theory has nonetheless been widely criticised due to an apparent failure of empirical evidence; general intelligence theory and the science of computational modelling and artificial intelligence clearly requires a programming language that explores an adequate explanation of the construct of intelligence and the ambiguity of subjective interpretations is devoid of such calculable and mechanistic qualities.

The approach or understanding of artificial intelligence appears to become mythical when the reality is that “we lack scientific understanding of the most relevant details of human intelligence,”[5] particularly phenomena from non-linguistic domains and as such, believing in our capacity to replicate something we are unable to understand is clearly fallacious. The properties of a concept like intelligence cannot wholly and autonomously be measured and I believe requires intuitive and subjective interpretations of meaning that synthesise multiple areas of mind and cognition. Creativity, for instance, embodies subjective narratives of the individual. Alan Turin stated in the Imitation Test that if an AI is capable of convincing a human that they are communicating, then they fall within the criterion of intelligence.[6] The test involves three rooms, one containing a human, the other a robot and yet one more deemed the ‘judge’ all connected and communicating with one another via computer and keyboard. The judge must decide which is human and which is the robot and the probability that the judge may confer the robot to be a human confirms that it must have the intelligence as one (anthropomorphically).[7]

Refuting this claim, John Searle’ Chinese Room argument proved that absorbing and reiterating formal or syntactical manipulations is not actual intelligence.[8] A man in a room is sitting with a collection of Chinese symbols that he does not understand along with an instruction manual to translate the symbols, upon which someone from outside of the room sends a question using Chinese symbols to the man. He successfully answers the question using the instruction manual and provides the answer to the person outside of the room that assumes the man can speak Chinese, when in actuality he cannot.[9] What makes the human mind different to computational processing is the symbiosis of meaning vis-à-vis the content and thus more than simply syntax, as what is constitutive of a mind is associating meaning to the symbols or signs.

As such, there are domains of consciousness in which we as humans perform and yet are unable to articulate. Hermeneutics is a branch of philosophy dealing with meaning, Paul Ricoeur stating that we designate meaning to symbols and texts using an internal language. Thus it is not about traditional semantics, but rather how narratives are subjectively interpreted and also projected, namely its intentionality. Martin Heidegger began to question ‘being’ from an ontological angle; what is ‘being’ and are humans the only animal aware of its own existence? In Being and Time, he expresses the notion that who we are is determined by the examination of ourselves, how we are called upon to live and thus Dasein is an ‘essence’ rather than a property. An inauthentic Dasein, on the other hand, is one that does not live for itself but rather lives in a state of Furcht or fear. “This temporality ‘temporalizes’ itself in only either an authentic (anticipating – recollecting – moment of vision) or an inauthentic (awaiting – forgetting – making-present) manner.”[10] Furcht is a subjective attitude of the inauthentic, for Dasein is one able to recognise itself as a subject and thus able to distinguish the object of the feeling or attitude directed to an object, namely to be an authentic Dasein.

Predictive analytics is one such development used in artificial intelligence to enable a machine to narrow a result based on its interaction with existing data. “Predictive analytics originated from AI based on discovered and recognised patterns in dataset.”[11] The intended aim is to discover patterns and common associations to detect and predict future events, the data-mining process illustrating machine learning and many software programs and tools have been created to assist organisations to forecast results. Artificial intelligence is thus a way in which we as humans can engineer and replicate similar cognitive processes that we experience. Ray Kurzweil, a well-known futurist and director of engineering for Google, believes that the future will mostly be machined by software based, artificially intelligent beings and that ‘organic’ human beings will populate merely a small percentage. “He proposes that the future destiny of humans is to actually merge with machines… Kurtzweil views technological advances, especially in computing power, as a continuation of the process of evolution.”[12]  Most futurists like Kurtzweil claim that the singularity has enormous benefits, namely it can help find cures “for all known diseases, an end to poverty, extraordinary scientific advances and much more,”[13] but what he fails to take into consideration is that we have already reached that capacity and the very root of the problems we face is the fact that humanity itself has yet to evolve ethically and morally, that protracted power struggles and increasingly polarised economic rivalry has intensified corruption and engendered policy failure. Amartya Sen spoke of this with clarity when discussing that while there was no decrease in food production, the Bengali famine that saw three million people die was a failure of appropriate acquisition and distribution of rations.[14] The argument here is that the singularity would have prevented these deaths but the scenario in question demonstrates that humans themselves are already capable of preventing such deaths.

Morality remains within this abstract domain and solutions to global existential threats cannot be addressed nor even authentically understood through mechanistic properties that the concept of ‘intelligence’ or the singularity exemplifies. If in the event, for instance, I find the will to change the impoverished situation of a small community in Papua New Guinea due to a report of unnecessary deaths of children, it is not a concrete matter to go and feed them; who are the people in the village of Papua New Guinea, what is poverty, demography, anthropology, history etc &c., and you find yourself synthesising multiple domains rather than being restricted to one discipline. Perhaps such fluidity can be programmed, but the question lies the initial objective, the will that made me seek to make the change in the first place and this domain is the subjective, abstract and incalculable morality that turns one from a machine, a number or algorithm or an uploaded body in a expansive, illusory universe to a living human being. This domain in question is moral consciousness.

So the question here is that while knowledge and technology has increased with the chance of it continuing at an unprecedented speed, have we as humans at all evolved? A human is not merely a mechanistic, calculable process that blindly marches in servitude to institutions promoting order [sometimes through fear to subjugate creativity and thus prevent independent thinking], but what makes a human is their capacity to exercise freedom, allowing one to transcend existing processes of the brain and to start appreciating and applying intuition. We view the idea that machines will change the woes of the world for the better, but if an algorithm existed would alleviate the failures of humanity, the result would quite simply be eliminating humanity as a whole. It is not merely finding artificial solutions, on the contrary, it is to access our already existing and organic capacity to be creative and intuitive, the realm where our moral independence or moral consciousness subsides. Abstract, indeed. Individual, absolutely.

Our pernicious global situation that we find ourselves seems to escape the attentiveness of such futurists. Under a Purchasing Power Parity [PPP] 80% of the world’s population live under $10 a day[15] with over 7.5 million children under the age of 5 dying from malnutrition and preventable diseases. After decades of abhorrent societal mores and policies in China, the agenda by its hardline government to modernise their nuclear posture along with the extension and sophistication of its army would ring alarm bells for anyone who has even the slightest political inkling. Our continuous aggravation of ecological degradation caused by our ever expanding human population and the increasing consumption of assets by extracting and exhausting the earths resources while at the same time clear cutting forests that only contributes to global warming, we are polluting an organic earth that cannot regenerate as fast as we are consuming, shredding biodiversity apart and emitting chlorofluorocarbons that destroy the earths atmosphere. By taking a historical approach to the study of human progress without confining observations to a naïve confidence in local and common descriptions, it appears progress has in actuality reversed and what has certainly remained unchanged is our failure to broaden moral and ethical principles. From the very beginning from Adam and Eve or Cain and Abel until now, the internal language of morality and love appears to remain unread.

Singularity as a concept is merely an attempt to replicate what we already are but in digital format. Kurzweil ‘predicts’ that the future will barely involve biological humans and instead the world will be populated by machines, that there will be ‘virus’ threats since most ‘beings’ will be uploaded, where the distinction between reality and virtual reality will be challenged. Governments, institutions, even cultures demand the very same mechanistic behaviour by people, that we too get sick from illness, that understanding reality, perception and consciousness is challenged. If one would like to talk about the predictions, let us think of Daniel 12:4 in the Old Testament, whereby: “But you, Daniel, roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.”[16]

[1] David Chalmers, “The Singularity: A Philosophical Analysis” Journal of Consciousness Studies 17:7-65 (2010) 5

[2] Albert Einstein, Cosmic Religion:With Other Opinions and Aphorisms (1931) 97

[3] Bonaventure Balla, Symbolism, Synesthesia, and Semiotics, Multidisciplinary Approach Xlibris Corporation (2012) 33

[4] Dario Nardi, Multiple Intelligences & Personality Type: Tools and Strategies for Developing Human Potentiol, Telos Publications (2001) 50

[5] Blay Whitby, Artificial Intelligence, The Rosen Publishing Group (2009) 14

[6] Ronald Chrisley, Sander Begeer, Artificial Intelligence: Critical Concepts [Volume 4] Taylor & Francis (2000) 16

[7] Francisco J. Ricardo, The Engagement Aesthetic: Experiencing New Media Art Through Critique, Bloomsbury Publishing (2013)

[8] Barry Smith, John Searle, Cambridge University Press (2003) 214

[9] Ibid.

[10] R.P Buckley, Husserl, Heidegger and the Crisis of Philosophical Responsibility, Springer Science & Business Media (2012) 201

[11] Pethuru Raj, Handbook of Research on Cloud Infrastructures for Big Data Analytics, IGI Global (2014) 371

[12] Woodrow Barfield, Cyber-Humans: Our Future with Machines, Springer (2015)

[13] Op. Cit., DJ Chalmers

[14] Neal Leavitt, The Foreign Policy of John Rawls and Amartya Sen, Lexington Books (2013) 70

[15] Shaohua Chen and Martin Ravallion, “The developing world is poorer than we thought, but no less successful in the fight against poverty,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics (2010) 125 (4): 1577-1625.

[16] Book of Daniel, Old Testament 12:4

4 thoughts on “Internal Language and Intelligence: Where Is Moral Consciousness?

  1. I have deep appreciation for this post. However, there is so much meat in it that I must return to read it again and absorb it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.
    However, due to your article it now strikes me that a programming language which can be used to design itself is limited in its scientific ability. This is because it approaches its own destination asymptotically and may never reach its own goal.

    In the meantime I will share my artistic thoughts on the trajectory of AI and machines that design themselves.


  2. I have read some poetry that is computer generated and that is hard to distinguish it from human poems, perhaps due to the shortness of a poem and how poetic language is used. Twitter acknowledges that 23 million of its users are bots.

    Suppose that in the Chinese Room thought experiment that the judge, the person in the third room was a computer and not a person. Do you think the computer, given the structural similarity of its expressions would be able to distinguish between the human and the other computer?

    A few of questions to ponder:

    1) Can analogue systems ever be fully translated into digital systems.
    2) Machine creativity seems to be manipulative, arriving a new combinations of existing patterns.
    3) Which lead to the question does man invent new patterns or is Ecclesiastes correct:

    Ecclesiastes 1:9 New International Version (NIV)

    9 What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.

    Enjoy your posts Sara, even if I don’t always agree 🙂


    • If you agreed with all my posts, there would be nothing to talk about and that would ultimately be an irritating experience.

      I have read the writing of some people that clearly have a poor grasp of English and are unable to understand expression, idioms or proverbs and sayings and I could easily admit that computers could write better; I highly doubt, however, that a computer could adequately respond to a parable that has yet to be structurally implemented – i.e. the Chinese cards – into its processing and therefore aesthetics, creativity is the key and not merely the correct method of speaking. During Shakespeare’s time there was no right way of spelling and they just made words up as they went, but has there ever been anyone as wonderful as him? So it is not about distinguishing or comparing analogous to linguistic requirements but rather that aesthetic and therein that moral capacity to react, appreciate, understand, feel, ‘wisdom’ that separates a human from a computer and the subjective realm we will never really be capable of extracting. Absorbing and reiterating information – which is what most people do – is not essentially understanding.

      As for Ecclesiastes 1:9, yes, morally speaking. Knowledge has increased, but we are still the same immoral species since we are consistently failing this subjective aesthetic judgement.


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