The Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence by Margaret Boden

There is much talk these days about artificial intelligence, and whether advanced computer systems could ever really ‘think’. Might they, after we have birthed them, go on to replicate and take over the world? This is not idle speculation, or the draft plot for a science fiction novel. Stephen Hawking is only one of many who believe super clever robots will spell the end of the human race. (

If you’re up for a hard think on these questions I unhesitatingly recommend this collection of essays edited by Margaret Boden ( and

In the introduction to the anthology (in The Oxford Readings in Philosophy series), Boden defines the philosophy of AI broadly “as the science of intelligence in general—or, more accurately, as the intellectual core of cognitive science.” Through this comprehensive definition, she embraces the definitional extremes, including those that traditionally view AI “as the study of how to build and/or program computers to enable them to do the sorts of things thatminds can do” and those that make no reference to the computer at all. The collection, however, focuses on the philosophical problems associated with the machine metaphor and asks whether machine ‘intelligence’ is truly possible. For those already familiar with the literature, this volume provides a handy compendium. For students, it provides a concise overview of the machine intelligence debate. The first essays lay the foundation for the discussion that follows. They include “A Logical Calculus of the Ideas Immanent in Nervous Activity” by Warren S. McCulloch and Walter H. Pitts, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” by Alan M. Turing, and “Computing Science as Empirical Inquiry: Symbols and Search” by Allen Newell and Herbert Simon. The remaining essays deal primarily with three types of criticism inspired by Turing’s paper and the belief “that intelligence necessarily involves causal processes (computations) of a certain systematic sort.” Antibehaviorist criticisms form the first type. They “appeal to conscious experience as a necessary condition of mentality.” The second type argues that “even if a computer were to perform as Turing imagined…, it would not really think or understand: no intelligence without intentionality.” John Searle’s intentionality critique “Minds, Brains, and Programs” with its Chinese room represents this type. The third type argues the impossibility of getting “computers to perform in a way that matches the depth, range, and flexibility of human minds.” Included in this group are David C. Marr’s “Artificial Intelligence: A Personal View,” Daniel C. Dennett’s “Cognitive Wheels: The Frame Problem of AI,” and Drew McDermott’s“A Critique of Pure Reason”.

This is all deeply interesting, and highly topical, discussion – for which a couple of days should be set aside. Let me know at the end of it if you believe a machine could really think.

Enquire at your local library or consult  for full bibliographic details.

To listen to Professor Margaret Boden access the BBC Radio 4 podcast of an episode of ‘The Life Scientific‘ with Professor Jim Al-Khalili here

460 pages in Oxford University Press

First published April 1990

ISBN 978-0198248552

Professor Margaret Boden

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