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Alan Alda in Scientific American Frontiers
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Darwin's Dangerous Idea (continued)


My advice if you want to be happy is, find something more important than you are and work for it.

 

DENNETT: I think a lot of people prefer the traditional idea that we get our purpose from on high, somehow. I think that the important idea here is that you want there to be something more important than you are, to give you meaning and to make you happy. My advice if you want to be happy is, find something more important than you are and work for it.

Alda: Do you think that a robot can ever achieve what we would call consciousness?

Dennett: I think it's possible. I think it may not happen for boring economic reasons. It's possible for roboticists to make a robot that weighs less than a pound that can fly by flapping its wings, and can catch insects and land on a twig with its little feet. I think that's possible. I don't expect to see that happen. It would cost billions and billions of dollars and we wouldn't learn that much. I think that making a robot that's conscious the way we are is an equally bizarrely expensive and complicated thing, so I think it won't happen.


We have made something that we are going to have a hard time maintaining our mastery over.
I
t's called the Internet.

ALDA: It sounds as though you're saying that we don't have to worry too much about robots taking over?

DENNETT: Yes. I think those fears were extremely unrealistic. But there are perfectly realistic fears. We have made something that we now are going to have a hard time maintaining our mastery over. It's called the Internet. It is already of a complexity and a size that no person and no committee of people can really understand. It doesn't have goals of the sort that we imagine these robot masters to have, but it has become something that we're quite dependent on and that we don't understand very well.

Robots In Our Image


I'm not sure we will ever be making robots that are a lot like us, just because we don't need more of us.

 

ALDA: You have said that we're all made of these little tiny robots. Could we make robots with behaviors very much like our own?

DENNETT: I think so. I think it won't happen tomorrow, but certainly. We're robots. We're big fancy robots.


ALDA:
What has to happen before you can get robots to be more like us, or a lot like us?

DENNETT: Well, first of all, I'm not sure we will ever be making robots that are a lot like us, just because we don't need more of us. We don't have to do the full robotic imitator. In the same way, we understand flight pretty well now, but nobody's making robotic birds that fly by flapping their wings. Every exercise in robotics is a huge, huge compromise. You have to hope that you can find some simple, relatively cheap way of getting some functionality that nature gets with just prodigious expense. Let's face it, any complex organism is just an enormously wasteful and complicated thing with millions or billions of cells, all doing one special job. Take the eye. You've got millions and millions of rods and cones. And we're going to replace those with oh, maybe a million light sensitive pixels. We're going to cut down by a factor of 10, by a factor of 100 everywhere we can, simply because life is short, we want to get the job done.

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