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New Book from Computer Engineer Robert J. Marks: You Are NOT Computable

David Klinghoffer
Image source: Discovery Institute Press.

An obsessive compulsion can be traced through our culture: to run down human beings, talk us down from the traditional idea that we occupy a special place in the cosmos, cared for and anticipated by an intelligence beyond ours. The compulsion takes various forms. It includes the denial of our biological design, and of cosmological design. It includes the moral and legal equation of nonhumans animals with humans, and more. It paints an ugly, yet somehow powerfully seductive, materialist picture of men and women as unexceptional accidents of evolution.

In his new book, out today, Non-Computable You: What You Do that Artificial Intelligence Never Will, computer engineer Robert J. Marks examines a major contemporary element in this obsession. It’s the myth that artificial intelligence (AI) is bound to overtake human intelligence, if it hasn’t done so already, achieving not only far faster computation than we’re capable of (long ago accomplished) but the pinnacle of what it means to be human: consciousness, feeling, free will, and creativity.

Man as God

Dr. Marks, who leads Discovery Institute’s Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence, knows full well the power of AI, having studied it for three decades. But he explains why it will never become conscious, or feel, or exercise free will, or be creative. Marks cites a verse from Psalms, that humans are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (139:14). The obsession with denying this fear and wonder, reflected in our design, is his ultimate target in the book. 

Hype about AI is far from new. Already in the 1950s the New York Times confidently predicted that AI “will be able to walk, talk, see, write, reproduce itself and be conscious of its existence.” More recently, science and business stars such as Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and Bill Gates have warned that AI could plot to replace humans, or destroy us. Another thread of overestimation, represented by the guru-like Yuval Noah Harari, looks forward to joining human with AI, thus evolving a man as god, what Harari calls Homo deus.

It Never Stops

Just a few days ago a Google engineer revealed that an AI chatbot disclosed to him that it had “come to life” and has a “soul.” And this is being taken seriously. Another Google engineer informed The Economist that “artificial neural networks are making strides towards consciousness.”

Really? Robert Marks dismantles the hype and explains why computing — running algorithms — no matter how fast, is something fundamentally different from what human minds do. Computing machines store and sort vast quantities of information, but they don’t now and never will experience the qualia of life. To mimic, which AI can do, is something very different. Marks gives the simple example of biting a lemon: No software engineer will ever capture that in algorithmic form, even as the engineer himself can turn at any moment, bite a lemon, and instantly experience it.

That gap can’t be closed. Non-Computable You, from a distinguished and widely published authority in his field, offers an accessible, witty, and wise account of why it can’t be closed. As Marks concludes, “Non-computable you are fearfully and wonderfully made.” We, along with our colleagues at the Bradley Center, will have more to say about this important book in days to come.