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Dennett's Parable: "It can be hell to always be right"


After Daniel Dennett and John Searle die they face judgment together........

St. Pete: I brought you both here today because your argument about strong AI and the Mind has raised doubts about whether you both lived your lives as noble philosophers, worthy of final rest in Heaven, or as bickering ignoramuses who deserve to go to Hell.

Dennett: "Whew! I had feared that there was a special Hell reserved for all philosophers."

St. Pete: "No, but there is a special Hell for each individual, and it is my job to sometimes make sure that people get to experience their personal Hell."

Searle: "Yikes! I must confess that debating with Dennett about Strong AI often seemed like Hell on Earth. I hope that we are not here together in the After Life because we are going to continue to share that Hell for the rest of Eternity."

St. Pete: "I sense that you are both troubled over the prospect of going to Hell and unable to maintain, shall I say, a philosophical attitude about the prospect. I can tell you this, He let slip the fact that although it may be true that you both deserve to go to Hell, since you did debate a yes-or-no philosophical issue and one of you had to be correct, only one of you will go to Hell.

Dennett: "You should have brought your asbestos nappies, John, I'm sure I was right about AI."

St. Pete: "Better not count your chickens before they hatch, Dan."

Searle: "Why keep us in suspense? Just tell us who was right about AI and which of us is going to Hell."

St. Pete: "He knows which of you is going to Hell, but He has cornered the market on omnipotence. The three of us will find out together which of you is going to Hell."

Dennett: "How will you decide the case?"

St. Pete: "Again you jump to an unwarranted conclusion. There is a decision algorithm, but all I do is execute the program."

Searle: "Are you saying that some computer is going to decide which of us goes to Hell?"

St. Pete: "Well, 'some computer' is rather vague language for a philosopher to use, but rather than pick nits, as I recall from your writings, both of you agree that the universe is a type of computer."

Dennett: "And if you are part of the universe then you are a computer too, so it could both be true that you are going to decide and a computer (you) is going to decide."

St. Pete: "Well, I wouldn't be able to sleep nights if I had to have it on my conscience that I was the one that decides who goes to Hell, so the process is a little less personal with respect to my role. I have here....." [St. Pete unrolls a glowing golden scroll] "......the algorithm for deciding which of you will go to Hell. The instantiation of this program is all His handiwork, just like everything else."

Searle: "Wow! So God is a computer programmer, eh?"

St. Pete: "In a sense. Shall we get on with it then?"

Dennett: "Can't you show us the code? What language does God program in?"

St. Pete: "Quickly now, I'm a busy angel." [St. Pete turns the scroll around and lets the two philosophers have a look] "I'm afraid it will only appear as a meaningless collection of symbols to you, but I'll tell you what it means. [St. Pete turns the scroll around again and reads] "In a minute I am going to place each of you into your own personal testing room. In your room, you will find an Intelligent Robot."

Searle: "A real functioning robot that can think and talk?"

St. Pete: "Yes."

Dennett: "Oh oh, John, its looking bad for you! Real thinking robots!"

St. Pete: "Dan, please stop jumping to wild conclusions."

Searle: "I've always said the people are just thinking machines. The question is, are the minds of these robots powered by Good Old Fashioned AI?"

St. Pete: "Hmmm......." [St. Pete mumbles as he reads the entire scroll to himself] "It doesn't say if the robots were created by Good Old Fashioned AI."

Dennett: "Can you at least tell us if it is possible to make a thinking robot using Good Old Fashioned AI?"

St. Pete: "No, the decision algorithm explicitly precludes me from answering that question. However, when you get into your testing room you will each be allowed to ask your robot one question. Further more, your robot knows the answer to every philosophical question that you have ever asked."

Searle: "So I can ask the robot about AI?

St. Pete: "Yes. Are you ready?" [Searle nods and is whisked away to his testing room]

Dennett: "Yes." [Dennett is transported to his testing room. After 10 seconds Searle returns to St. Pete]

St. Pete: "Well, how did it go?"

Searle: "Well, I got to the testing room and I asked the robot, 'How can I convince Dennett that he was wrong and that claims of Strong AI were wrong?' The answer from the robot was, "You can't. I am an example of a computer running a conventional AI program which creates my mind.' Then I came back here."

St. Pete: "Don't let it bother you. There are worse things than being wrong. Let's go. [St. Pete starts pulling Searle up towards Heaven.]

Searle: "Can't we wait for Dennett, I'd like to hear what he asked his robot."

St. Pete: "I can tell you that. [St. Pete checks the golden scroll.] Dennett's question was, 'How can I convince Searle that he was wrong, tell me how Good Old Fashioned AI can program a computer to have a human mind.' Now, let's go."

Searle: "Gee, I'd like to hear what Dennett finds out."

St. Pete: "I'm a busy angel, I don't have time to wait for Dennett to come out his testing room. Its going to take most of the rest of eternity for that robot to explain to Dennett how to program a computer to have a mind. [And with that, Searle is taken to Heaven where he quickly gets over having been wrong about Strong AI.]

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