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Intelligence metamorphoses

Metamorphoses de l'intelligence: Que faire de leur cerveau bleu?
Forfatter: Catherine Malabou
Forlag: PUF (Frankrike)
French philosopher Catherine Malabou asks a timely question, but does not give a clear answer in her new book on intelligence.


Since the British mathematician Alan Turing in the beginning of the 1950s tried to set principles for when a machine could be said to exhibit intelligence in line with that of a human, the so-called Turing test has acted as a veritable dynamo for sci-fispeculation about the phenomenon of "artificial intelligence". The Turing test is in its simplicity that a person in remote communication must be able to assess whether one is talking to a person or with so-called artificial intelligence. Of course, Ridley Scott's cult saga about Blade Runner, which recently added a new film history chapter, is the classic popular-cultural processing of the question of whether machines can think. But also whether machines can actually set the parameters for what we humans call "intelligence". For what is intelligence really for a size? And it makes more sense at all – decades after the first intelligent computers crept past the Turing parameters, and where several great masters, not only in chess, but also in the ancient Chinese game go, have long had to submit their titles to Google's self-learning algorithms – to distinguish between "real" and "artificial" intelligence?

The Blue Brain Project

If you are interested in such issues on a more philosophical level, you may well start with the French philosopher Catherine Malabou, who is current with the book Metamorphoses de l'intelligence: Que faire de leur cerveau bleu. As the title suggests, the book is based on a large interdisciplinary research project called "The Blue Brain Project", which is based in Lausanne, Switzerland. The project aims to use new so-called quantum computers – computers that work with quantum theoretical probability values, so-called qubits (instead of the binary system with the classical bits) – to try to simulate the human brain and its more than 100 trillion brain cells' hectic activity.

Does it make any difference whatsoever to distinguish between 'real' and 'artificial' intelligence?

Malabou also has in his earlier works, which What to do with our net? from 2004 (translated into Norwegian in 2017 as "What should we do with our brains?"), dealt extensively with neurobiology. She has consistently argued that the human brain possesses an irreducible plasticity that cannot be imitated. But now, among other things, because of the neurobiological advances used in the brain simulation in Switzerland, she has come to more hesitant conclusions: «I have long believed that neuronal plasticity prohibited any comparison between the 'natural' brain and the machine , more specifically the computer. But the latest new steps in artificial intelligence, especially the development of 'synaptic' chips, have made this assumption more fragile. ”

Intelligence metamorphoses

In modern times, the fronts of the debate on intelligence have been raised as to whether or not "intelligence can be reduced to a collection of cerebral dispositions". Malabou illustrates this question through an idea-historical mapping of three main stages in the history of the metamorphoses of intelligence, that is, the switch of intelligence. The first crucial metamorphosis points back to one of the cruelest chapters in the history of biology, the eugenic notion of intelligence as a purely hereditary matter, a genetically determined and quantifiable "gene factor". Thus, it is from the eugenics and the associated notions of a possible breed improvement based on genetic selection processes that the modern scientific notion of intelligence originates. As Malabou demonstrates, Nazism crossed crucial paths of hereditary doctrine with experimental psychology and spawned the modern idea of ​​measurable intelligence quotients (IQs).

The modern scientific notion of intelligence stems from eugenics.

Another metamorphosis has to do with epigenetics, which is the branch of genetics that focuses on how external environmental influences in the form of habit, habits and education influence and transform the neuronal connections in the brain. This "epigenetic reversal" in the cognitive sciences took place on the eve of the 21st century, and was, according to Malabou, "intimately linked to the neurobiological revolution of the 1980s," which it discovered, also crucial to Malabou's own intellectual project. plasticitet. " This provoked a "redefinition of intelligence", which gave rise to transmitted notions of (eu) genetic determinism, that is, the notion that the degree of intelligence depends solely on hereditary factors.

What needs to be done?

The third and final stage, as Malabou enumerates, is still waiting to be realized. And it is hardened to note another aspect of the book's title. For What to do is of course also the programmatic sentient ultimate, the typical French rendition of precisely that question which none other than Lenin posed in the run-up to the Russian Revolution: What to do?, or "What must be done?" The question of "their blue brain", and, more broadly, of artificial intelligence in general, thus implies to Malabou a political dimension. What is at stake for Malabou is the question of that in '' cognitive capitalism '', under the threat of a possible destruction of humanity by an emerging AI, and with the fragility of the notion of collective intelligence at all possible to welcome these new developments welcome without simultaneously developing new resistance logic ». Unfortunately, unlike Lenin in his day, Malabou has little concrete say on political tactics and resistance. Question What to do? regrettably remains unanswered, but at least someone has (again) placed it in relation to one of the most pressing issues of the time. 

Dominique Routhier
Dominique Routhier
Routhier is a regular critic of Ny Tid.

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