Wittgenstein: Intelligence is Never Artificial

Why Extravagant Claims About AI Cheapen Our Humanity

Steven Gambardella
The Sophist
Published in
11 min readDec 7, 2019

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Marcel Duchamp, A Game of Chess (Public Domain, source: Wikimedia)

“What is going to be created will literally be a god,” Anthony Levandowski, the leader of a religion called “Way of the Future” told Wired Magazine. “It’s not a god in the sense that it makes lightning or causes hurricanes. But if there is something a billion times smarter than the smartest human, what else are you going to call it?”

Levandowski considers himself a prophet of artificial intelligence (AI). His newly-founded cult anticipates the presumed god-like power of technology. This case of techno-idolatry may be extreme, but if they didn’t believe it was possible now, most people would believe that artificial intelligence will arrive in the near future.

The popular understanding is that AI will be able to think like a human and interact with human beings in a way that might be indistinguishable from a real human being.

This level of sophistication is most often described as “Strong AI”. The technological development that computers will someday match our cognitive abilities — and even become self-aware — already has its own mythology.

The coming of Strong AI has been labelled as “the singularity”, an event of unprecedented magnitude for the human race. Some see it as the end of humanity, some see it as a new beginning.

The basic benchmark for this kind of “Strong AI” is the Turing Test, developed by Alan Turing. The test is to see if a human being would mistakenly take a machine for the human being by swapping messages with it, effectively having a conversation.

But can machines think? Can intelligence actually be artificial? What even is “intelligence”?

These are questions that preoccupied the twentieth-century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who thought about AI some years before the Turing Test was proposed.

Strong AI rests on a theory of the mind that holds that the mind is the brain, and the brain an information processing machine. This is known as the “computational theory of mind.”

But Wittgenstein went on to become arguably the most significant philosopher of the twentieth century by demonstrating just how profoundly…

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Steven Gambardella
The Sophist

History PhD. The lessons of history and philosophy for your life and work. Writes The Sophist: https://sophist.substack.com/