I Think, Therefore I Am


Computational intelligence is the manifest destiny of computer science.
    Ed Feigenbaum

Is the mind computable? Can we build sentient machines? What are the implications for humanity if we can?

The human race may be singular, unique across all of time and space. It may be just one of multitudes. Most likely, however, it is an extremely rare thing, an exquisitely precious consequence of the unfolding of the laws of the universe. Still, one truth that we can assert with confidence is that we are. We are self-aware; we know that we know we exist. There is within humanity a drive to recreate itself, to be as a god to things we create in our own image. From the Golem of Jewish mythology, to Leonardo’s robot, to the contemporary Kenshiro robot, we project our hopes and our fears into cunning mechanism that mirror us. While these anthropomorphic robots are interesting (and perhaps a bit creepy), there is a less visible revolution taking place in cognitive computing, whose advances are not only helping us better understand the operation of the human brain, they are leading us to create the illusion of sentience.

In this lecture, Grady explores the development of intelligent computers as projections of what we both dream and what we fear. We examine what it means to be intelligent, and take a journey through past and future approaches to building sentient software-intensive systems. Some such as Minsky believe the mind to be computable; others such as Penrose do not. In the end, we are compelled to consider the question of what it means to be human: producing even the illusion of the mind raises profound questions as to their personhood and our relationship to these machines.

Thanks to the generous support of the Computer History Museum, this lecture was first presented publicly on March 11, 2013, as part of the CHM Soundbytes Lecture Series.