July 23, 2015 By Joseph P. Farrell

The transhumanism scrapbook seems to keep growing each week, as this or that news story demonstrates that another incremental step has been achieved. In this case (perhaps... I'll leave you to be the judge), in robotics. The transhumanist assumptions about the coming "singularity" are simple enough: the GRIN technologies, as Dr. deHart and I outlined them in our Transhumanism: A Grimoire of Alchemical Agendas, as easy enough to understand, and, if one recalls the ninth chapter of our book, all designed around the "Frankenstein" moment, when human science achieves the ability not merely to engineer an artificial life, but in Shelley's prophetic vision, its self-awareness and consciousness as well. This poses obvious problems and questions of philosophy, as we all know.

In that context, Mr. A.B. shared the following interesting article about a recent test performed with three robots, one of which apparently exhibitted a crude form of self-awareness:

Uh-oh, a robot just passed the self-awareness test

Let's assume, for a moment and for the sake of argument, that this robot did indeed pass such a self-awareness test, that there is a " tiny self" in there that made these statements. It is hard to imagine, under such circumstances, that this "self" is of the same order as, say, you or me. It's a "lower" self. But once one admits this possibility, the thorny questions don't really go away; they're actually increased, for then the problem becomes one of acknowledging that the "Self" can come in many forms, some more complex than others, and this in its turn implies that one of our most cherished notions - personhood itself - is (1) not restricted to humans and (2) that it is, at least to some degree as yet unknown, not merely a qualitative phenomenon but that (again, to some degree though probably not a total one) it is "quantifiable" in ways we have not yet figured out. In this respect, I am reminded of the curious fact that one Christian church father, one in fact who had a great role in the formulation of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, St. Basil the Great(Basil of Caesarea), once remarked of his use of the Greek word "hypostasis" to designate what we call "person" or "personhood", that it was meant to denote the living (and presumably self-aware) individual, as distinct of the natural soul. It was the context in which he did so that was disconcerting (at least, to people with a particular view of Christian theology or for that matter, of animals), in that he applied the word not simply to "Peter" and "Paul" but to "this horse" and "that horse," implying there was some sort of lower form of personhood at work in the higher beasts, a view disconcerting to the more "mechanical" view of animals that would obtain in some instances in the mediaeval West, and finally be explicitly enshrined in some of the statements of the Cartesians. Basil, in his own unique way, was really saying "we are not alone." (Were I still in possession of my patristics library, I could cite this text, and let the reader evaluate for himself).  All of this reminds me of the episode that left me stunned one morning, as I was going out the door to take my friend Scott deHart's son Bennett to school. As we were leaving the apartment, I always had the habit of turning to Dr. deHart's pet African Gray parrot, Murray, and saying, "I'll be back; you be a good bird."

Murray, who loved to play games with me - including mimicking the sound of my phone ringing whenever I left the room, only to watch me come tearing back in to answer it, only to find the "caller" had rung off, a game eventually given away when Murray, after one such episode, also started laughing! -  on this particular morning, before I could say my usual line, just blurted out the line "I'll be a good bird," which left both Dr deHart's son and I staring at each other with our eyes and mouths wide open, for this was a sentence that Murray had never heard before, and consequently wasn't imitating. He had made it up, on the spot, and in a connection and context that made perfect sense.

Why am I bothering you with all this "theology" and a personal anecdote? Well, back to our little robot:

"Selmer Bringsjord set up a similar situation for the three robots - two were prevented from talking, then all three were asked which one was still able to speak. All attempt to say "I don't know", but only one succeeds - and when it hears its own voice, it understands that it was not silenced, saying "Sorry, I know now!"

However, as we can assume that all three robots were coded the same, technically, all three have passed this self-awareness test.

Well, maybe, but for my two cents' worth, I think the jury is still out. For one thing, one would have to repeat the test, and I would aver, develop other much more sophisticated ones. Eventually, I suspect however, that we will be confronted by the types of situations that Isaac Asimov wrote about in his well-known novel, I, Robot, and dramatized in the Will Smith movie: there may be a ghost in the machine, and I suspect we're all familiar with the phenomenon of how our own personal computers, over time, develop their own strange idiosyncracies and "behaviors". And what this means is that, eventually, we will be confronted with the types of conundrums suggested long ago by Basil, and so tellingly outlined by Asimov. And that in turn is going to mean some reassessments of law itself. Time will tell.

See you on the flip side...