Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Will robots and machines ever have consciousness like humans?

There is a very famous thought experiment from UC Berkeley philosopher John Searle that all Christian apologists should know about. And now everyone who reads the Wall Street Journal knows about it, because of this article.

In that article, Searle is writing about the IBM computer that was programmed to play Jeopardy. Can a robot who wins on Jeopardy be “human”?Searle says no. And his famous Chinese room example (discussed in the article) explains why.

Excerpt:

Imagine that a person—me, for example—knows no Chinese and is locked in a room with boxes full of Chinese symbols and an instruction book written in English for manipulating the symbols. Unknown to me, the boxes are called “the database” and the instruction book is called “the program.” I am called “the computer.”

People outside the room pass in bunches of Chinese symbols that, unknown to me, are questions. I look up in the instruction book what I am supposed to do and I give back answers in Chinese symbols.

Suppose I get so good at shuffling the symbols and passing out the answers that my answers are indistinguishable from a native Chinese speaker’s. I give every indication of understanding the language despite the fact that I actually don’t understand a word of Chinese.

And if I do not, neither does any digital computer, because no computer, qua computer, has anything I do not have. It has stocks of symbols, rules for manipulating symbols, a system that allows it to rapidly transition from zeros to ones, and the ability to process inputs and outputs. That is it. There is nothing else.

Here is a link to the full article by John Searle on the Chinese room illustration.

By the way, Searle is a naturalist – not a theist, not a Christian. But he does oppose postmodernism. So he isn’t all bad. But let’s hear from a Christian scholar who can make more sense of this for us.

Here’s a related article on “strong AI” by Christian philosopher Jay Richards.

Excerpt:

Popular discussions of AI often suggest that if you keep increasing weak AI, at some point, you’ll get strong AI. That is, if you get enough computation, you’ll eventually get consciousness.

The reasoning goes something like this: There will be a moment at which a computer will be indistinguishable from a human intelligent agent in a blind test. At that point, we will have intelligent, conscious machines.

This does not follow. A computer may pass the Turing test, but that doesn’t mean that it will actually be a self-conscious, free agent.

The point seems obvious, but we can easily be beguiled by the way we speak of computers: We talk about computers learning, making mistakes, becoming more intelligent, and so forth. We need to remember that we are speaking metaphorically.

We can also be led astray by unexamined metaphysical assumptions. If we’re just computers made of meat, and we happened to become conscious at some point, what’s to stop computers from doing the same? That makes sense if you accept the premise—as many AI researchers do. If you don’t accept the premise, though, you don’t have to accept the conclusion.

In fact, there’s no good reason to assume that consciousness and agency emerge by accident at some threshold of speed and computational power in computers. We know by introspection that we are conscious, free beings—though we really don’t know how this works. So we naturally attribute consciousness to other humans. We also know generally what’s going on inside a computer, since we build them, and it has nothing to do with consciousness. It’s quite likely that consciousness is qualitatively different from the type of computation that we have developed in computers (as the “Chinese Room” argument, by philosopher John Searle, seems to show). Remember that, and you’ll suffer less anxiety as computers become more powerful.

Even if computer technology provides accelerating returns for the foreseeable future, it doesn’t follow that we’ll be replacing ourselves anytime soon. AI enthusiasts often make highly simplistic assumptions about human nature and biology. Rather than marveling at the ways in which computation illuminates our understanding of the microscopic biological world, many treat biological systems as nothing but clunky, soon-to-be-obsolete conglomerations of hardware and software. Fanciful speculations about uploading ourselves onto the Internet and transcending our biology rest on these simplistic assumptions. This is a common philosophical blind spot in the AI community, but it’s not a danger of AI research itself, which primarily involves programming and computers.

AI researchers often mix topics from different disciplines—biology, physics, computer science, robotics—and this causes critics to do the same. For instance, many critics worry that AI research leads inevitably to tampering with human nature. But different types of research raise different concerns. There are serious ethical questions when we’re dealing with human cloning and research that destroys human embryos. But AI research in itself does not raise these concerns. It normally involves computers, machines, and programming. While all technology raises ethical issues, we should be less worried about AI research—which has many benign applications—than research that treats human life as a means rather than an end.

When I am playing a game on the computer, I know exactly why what I am doing is fun – I am conscious of it. But the computer has no idea what I am doing. It is just matter in motion, acting on it’s programming and the inputs I supply to it. And that’s all computers will ever do. Trust me, this is my field. I have the BS and MS in computer science, and I have studied this area. AI has applications for machine learning and search problems, but consciousness is not on the radar. You can’t get there from here.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Democrats spied on journalist who reported on gunrunning and Benghazi cover-up

Ex-CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson

Ex-CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson

I blogged about this before in May 2013, but this time it’s in the New York Post.

Excerpt:

A former CBS News reporter who quit the network over claims it kills stories that put President Obama in a bad light says she was spied on by a “government-related entity” that planted classified documents on her computer.

In her new memoir, Sharyl Attkisson says a source who arranged to have her laptop checked for spyware in 2013 was “shocked” and “flabbergasted” at what the analysis revealed.

“This is outrageous. Worse than anything Nixon ever did. I wouldn’t have believed something like this could happen in the United States of America,” Attkisson quotes the source saying.

She speculates that the motive was to lay the groundwork for possible charges against her or her sources.

Attkisson says the source, who’s “connected to government three-letter agencies,” told her the computer was hacked into by “a sophisticated entity that used commercial, nonattributable spyware that’s proprietary to a government agency: either the CIA, FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency or the National Security Agency.”

The breach was accomplished through an “otherwise innocuous e-mail” that Attkisson says she got in February 2012, then twice “redone” and “refreshed” through a satellite hookup and a Wi-Fi connection at a Ritz-Carlton hotel.

The spyware included programs that Attkisson says monitored her every keystroke and gave the snoops access to all her e-mails and the passwords to her financial accounts.

“The intruders discovered my Skype account handle, stole the password, activated the audio, and made heavy use of it, presumably as a listening tool,” she wrote in “Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama’s Washington.”

Attkisson says her source — identified only as “Number One” — told her the spying was most likely not court-authorized because it went on far longer than most legal taps.

But the most shocking finding, she says, was the discovery of three classified documents that Number One told her were “buried deep in your operating system. In a place that, unless you’re a some kind of computer whiz specialist, you wouldn’t even know exists.”

“They probably planted them to be able to accuse you of having classified documents if they ever needed to do that at some point,” Number One added.

In her book, Attkisson says CBS lost interest in her coverage of the deadly attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, and killed her stories of the federal “Fast and Furious” gun-running scandal.

Both CBS and the White House declined to comment.

Investors Business Daily has more on some of the other things they and her former employer CBS News did to her to get her to shut up. The funny thing about her is that I remember her going after the Bush-43 administration hard when Bush was in power. So she is basically doing her thing whether there’s a Republican or a Democrat administration in power. The problem is her bosses – they were willing to let her report on Republican scandals, but when it was a Democrat administration, it all had to be hushed up.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , ,

Hillary Clinton’s views on the economy, taxes and jobs

The video above explains Hillary Clinton’s views on how jobs get created. She doesn’t think that private companies create jobs.

Here’s the story from economist Stephen Moore writing at Investors Business Daily.

Excerpt:

Hillary Clinton is getting deservedly attacked for her imbecilic statement at a Democratic political gathering in Massachusetts on Friday about business and jobs.

“Don’t let anybody tell you that, ah, you know, it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs,” she preached, to loud applause. “You know that old theory, trickle-down economics. That has been tried, that has failed. It has failed rather spectacularly.”

It may not be too surprising that Hillary can’t connect the dots that it takes an employer to create an employee to create wages and salaries.

That’s how some 150 million Americans get paid every week. Ms. Clinton has made her millions in the cattle futures market, as a government employee and giving speeches for fees of $250,000 a pop. Nice work if you can get it. The rest of us mere mortals need a paycheck.

Hillary’s witless statement might be written off as campaign hyperbole, and some might think the Democratic front-runner for president simply got carried away speaking to her “progressive” base and didn’t really mean it. Sometimes Republicans get into the act, as when Mitt Romney’s GOP rivals attacked him in 2012 for being rich and a successful investor.

But the scary thing is she really DID mean it. Her sophomoric comment, alas, reflects a long-simmering ideologically driven war against business that has become a central platform of the modern-day Democratic party.

Her remarks were simply an extension of President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” statement denigrating businessmen and women who have created companies — large and small.

In the left mindset, economic output and jobs are achieved collectively and thanks to the beneficence of government, not because of the ambition, drive, vision, risk-taking and guts that it takes to start a new enterprise out of nothing.

So who creates jobs then? Well, if it’s not private sector businesses then the only thing left to create jobs is the government. She thinks government creates jobs. And the more government raises taxes, the more money government has to give people jobs.

But is that really how it has worked in the past?

Let’s see.

Consider this article by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, which discusses how the Reagan tax cuts affected the unemployment rate.

Excerpt:

In 1980, President Carter and his supporters in the Congress and news media asked, “how can we afford” presidential candidate Ronald Reagan’s proposed tax cuts?

Mr. Reagan’s critics claimed the tax cuts would lead to more inflation and higher interest rates, while Mr. Reagan said tax cuts would lead to more economic growth and higher living standards. What happened? Inflation fell from 12.5 percent in 1980 to 3.9 percent in 1984, interest rates fell, and economic growth went from minus 0.2 percent in 1980 to plus 7.3 percent in 1984, and Mr. Reagan was re-elected in a landslide.

[...]Despite the fact that federal revenues have varied little (as a percentage of GDP) over the last 40 years, there has been an enormous variation in top tax rates. When Ronald Reagan took office, the top individual tax rate was 70 percent and by 1986 it was down to only 28 percent. All Americans received at least a 30 percent tax rate cut; yet federal tax revenues as a percent of GDP were almost unchanged during the Reagan presidency (from 18.9 percent in 1980 to 18.1 percent in 1988).

What did change, however, was the rate of economic growth, which was more than 50 percent higher for the seven years after the Reagan tax cuts compared with the previous seven years. This increase in economic growth, plus some reductions in tax credits and deductions, almost entirely offset the effect of the rate reductions. Rapid economic growth, unlike government spending programs, proved to be the most effective way to reduce unemployment and poverty, and create opportunity for the disadvantaged.

The Daily Signal describes the effects of the Bush tax cuts.

Excerpt:

President Bush signed the first wave of tax cuts in 2001, cutting rates and providing tax relief for families by, for example, doubling of the child tax credit to $1,000.

At Congress’ insistence, the tax relief was initially phased in over many years, so the economy continued to lose jobs. In 2003, realizing its error, Congress made the earlier tax relief effective immediately. Congress also lowered tax rates on capital gains and dividends to encourage business investment, which had been lagging.

It was the then that the economy turned around. Within months of enactment, job growth shot up, eventually creating 8.1 million jobs through 2007. Tax revenues also increased after the Bush tax cuts, due to economic growth.

In 2003, capital gains tax rates were reduced. Rather than expand by 36% as the Congressional Budget Office projected before the tax cut, capital gains revenues more than doubled to $103 billion.

The CBO incorrectly calculated that the post-March 2003 tax cuts would lower 2006 revenues by $75 billion. Revenues for 2006 came in $47 billion above the pre-tax cut baseline.

Here’s what else happened after the 2003 tax cuts lowered the rates on income, capital gains and dividend taxes:

  • GDP grew at an annual rate of just 1.7% in the six quarters before the 2003 tax cuts. In the six quarters following the tax cuts, the growth rate was 4.1%.
  • The S&P 500 dropped 18% in the six quarters before the 2003 tax cuts but increased by 32% over the next six quarters.
  • The economy lost 267,000 jobs in the six quarters before the 2003 tax cuts. In the next six quarters, it added 307,000 jobs, followed by 5 million jobs in the next seven quarters.

The timing of the lower tax rates coincides almost exactly with the stark acceleration in the economy. Nor was this experience unique. The famous Clinton economic boom began when Congress passed legislation cutting spending and cutting the capital gains tax rate.

So in the past, the trickle-down supply-side tax cuts that Hillary Clinton derided in her speech created lots of jobs. We have to do what is known to work.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , ,

J. Warner Wallace: practical advice on becoming an effective one-dollar apologist

Below is my summary of an episode of J. Warner Wallace’s Please Convince Me podcast, which I really liked, and my comments.

Details:

J. Warner continues examining the Christian life in light of God’s desire for all of us to become Christian Case Makers. Jim reads listener email highlighting some of the typical frustrations involved in starting an apologetics ministry and then provides a template to help you become the Case Maker you’ve always wanted to be. Jim also answers the question: Why Didn’t Jesus Reveal Scientific Facts to Demonstrate His Deity?

You can grab the MP3 file here.

This episode is probably one of the best episodes of the Please Convince Me podcast I’ve ever heard, because it’s practical. I like listening to the cold-case detective talk about practical things.

Summary:

  • e-mail from someone trying to start an apologetics ministry for college students and facing difficulties
  • the challenge of getting Christians to take an evidential approach to their faith
  • tips for getting Christians exposed to apologetics materials
  • there are a lot of Christians who are making a daily contribution to apologetics even with a full-time job
  • Wallace himself started his apologetics ministry while working full-time
  • Wallace, as an atheist, was initially skeptical of religion because he thought it was too focused on money
  • His plan as an apologist was to take money right out of it – do it for free, and  be self-funded
  • 1 Cor 9: “But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision.”
  • People in ministry deserve to be supported, but Paul dispensed with that right to raise support for his ministry
  • Paul self-financed his ministry in order to avoid all appearance of doing his ministry for financial gain
  • Similarly, Wallace’s goal of being self-financed was to avoid the appearance of doing ministry for money
  • If you plan your life carefully enough in the first half, you’ll have the money you need to do ministry in the second half
  • Wallace wanted the liberty to pursue things without any financial need, and he achieved this by working full-time
  • The problem with money is that it often causes us to not cooperate well with other people
  • Ministries and churches sometimes avoid working with other people, like scholars and apologists
  • They do this because they are afraid of losing their own people to these scholars and apologists
  • Wallace wants to get the money out of it and be able to serve anyone with a need
  • Wallace: you need to work hard in the first half of life, in order to have freedom to serve in the second half
  • First area: financial preparation – you need to escape financial needs so that it doesn’t restrict your passion
  • Wallace married well, to a woman who was a good saver, very frugal, and not materialistic – he saved 30% of his income
  • Second area: need to prepare yourself educationally for being able to teach apologetics materially
  • That doesn’t always mean doing the MA in apologetics, but you do have master the material – continuous learning
  • Third area: try to focus on the parts of your career that might have some connection to apologetics
  • You want to have experiences in your work where you learn something that can be used in your ministry
  • Wallace actually made career choices to focus on evidence, case-making and teaching
  • It’s hard because men are naturally competitive – we focus on promotions, money and consumer goods
  • It’s not always the right move in your career to get promoted if it takes you away from skills related to apologetics
  • Christian apologists need to not neglect to develop leadership skills and to develop influence
  • He recommends a book called “Platform” by Michael Hyatt, which Doug Groothuis also recommended to me
  • If you are financially independent, then if an unpaid opportunity arises, you have the freedom to take it
  • You can volunteer for positions that you want to have, instead having to take what pays
  • Wallace writes for Breakpoint, and he is able to dispense with the 1000-word limit that gets a fee
  • Money opens up the danger of corruption, so it’s another reason to just take it out of the picture
  • You can be very effective in your apologetics ministry while still working full-time
  • The second half is a good time to have even more freedom because your kids are grown up
  • A good wife can really help you if she is picking up the slack so that you can work on your ministry
  • Jane Pantig works for Ratio Christi, an organization that promotes apologetics on campus
  • Jane’s model: she is in full-time ministry, with a BS in biology and an MA in apologetics (Biola)
  • Jane is able to get many high-quality speakers to speak for free/cheap at San Jose State University

The rest of the podcast deals a question that was asked at the San Jose State University event that Wallace did for Ratio Christi. I blogged about it this morning. I  laughed my butt off while listening to that podcast, starting at around 62:50 and on. It’s pretty funny when he does the role-pay between Jesus and the people listening to him.

My comments:

The reason I wanted to post this is because I think that a lot of people feel obligated to quit their jobs and raise support because they think that you have to do apologetics full time. It’s not true. Wallace explains that he worked as a cold-case detective until just recently when he took his pension. His pension is now underwriting his ministry. Similarly with me, I work a full-time job and run the blog out of my income. In addition, I probably donate a few thousand dollars each year to people who are organizing apologetics lectures, debates and conferences – events featuring speakers I like best.

This blog gets about 1 million page views per year, depending on the year (election years are better), so that’s not an insignificant impact. In addition, I meet a lot of young Christians in university in different countries who want advice or mentoring, so I spend a few hours here and there mentoring them, and sometimes sending them rewards (books) for doing difficult degrees at good universities and getting good grades. My full-time job helps me to do all of these things. And before I could have a full-time job in information technology, I had to put in the time and effort to get the Bachelor and Masters degree in computer science.

So I think that Christian men especially need to be thinking about how much the apologetics enterprise of a one-dollar apologist relies on money. We really need to be thinking about that early on, in high school, and choosing to study hard things and to do well in those hard subjects. The higher-paying jobs that are more secure tend to be in fields like science, math, technology and engineering. We need to be thinking of doing these courses in high school – especially the men, but also the women – in order to be able to pay for our apologetics ministry. In addition, my decision to not marry (unless I meet a woman who can support me in my plan) gives me even more freedom to work on my ministry while working full time.

I fully approve of what Wallace said about self-financing your apologetics ministry – and supporting other apologetics ministries – in order to avoid all appearance of self-interest. In fact, I have long admired Wallace for his intentional, practical way of doing his ministry. He doesn’t take donations, and he gives away tons of materials for free. I like that.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , ,

Was the message of the New Testament corrupted?

This video is from the Dallas Theological Seminary Hendricks Center blog:

Apologetics Guy Mikel Del Rosario writes:

During a special event called “Jesus in Primetime,” Dr. Darrell Bock, Dr. Ben Witherington, and Dr. Dan Wallace discussed a variety of topics surrounding Jesus and the Bible in the public square. One of the topics they discussed was the issue of variant readings in the New Testament. Are there really hundreds of thousands of textual differences in our New Testament manuscripts? What does it all mean?

In this video clip, Dr. Dan Wallace identifies four categories of textual variants and explains why these differences don’t need to shake our faith in the New Testament.

The first and largest category is made up of spelling differences in the text, accounting for over 75% of all textual variants. What about the other 25%?

The next largest category represents synonyms, word order differences or articles with proper nouns; issues which don’t affect the meaning of text at all. For example, Greek writers would use the definite article before people’s names (e.g. “The Jesus”). In this case, whether or not the definite article is there makes no difference in English translations.

The third largest category is made up of variants that actually make a difference in the meaning of the text. But the differences in this category are unlikely to represent any of the original words of the New Testament because the manuscripts where they appear are very late–far removed from the time of Jesus and his original followers.

Finally, the fourth category is made up of variants that both make a difference and may possibly represent the original readings of the text. But this is less than 1% of all variants in the New Testament. For example, most scholars discuss whether the story about the woman caught in adultery was not originally in In John’s text at this point. This is a genuine discussion that notes in a good study discuss. Many do question its presence. Others still argue the event does describe something that did happen in Jesus’ life. What is impacted by this?

Bock answers this question: “What is impacted is whether or not a particular passage teaches a particular point, but in the big scheme of things, there is no fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith that is impacted by this one percent.” Wallace agrees: “There is no cardinal doctrine that is impacted by the viable variants.”

Indeed, it seems a bit misleading for certain scholars to declare that there are between 300,000 and 400,000 textual variants amongst the existing manuscripts we have today and leave it at that. We have so many variants because we have so many New Testament manuscripts. If all we had was one codex with all the books of the New Testament in it, we wouldn’t have any variants!

But having over 5,800 Greek New Testament manuscripts is a good thing because it can help us have more confidence in the readings which best represent the text of the original autographs.

Bart Ehrman tries to sell a lot of books by fussing about these variants, but in a debate with another expert, he quickly folded and admitted that there were only four variants that touched on anything important.

Bart Ehrman’s screeching about variants: should we care?

In Ehrman’s debate with Peter Williams on the UK-based Unbelievable radio show, and in Ehrman’s debate with Dan Wallace, Ehrman lists the 4 worst problems caused by the variants:

  1. the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11) is a late addition not present in the earliest manuscripts
  2. the long ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20) is a late addition not present in the earliest manuscripts
  3. Jesus was angry and not compassionate when he healed the leper (Mark 1:41)
  4. that Jesus died apart from God, and not by the grace of God (Hebrews 2:9)

I personally dislike that story in 1), because I think a lot of feminized Christians like it because they do not want to have their happiness diminished by moral judgments. They misunderstand this passage to support self-serving moral relativism and postmodern hedonism. Or worse, anti-capital-punishment. Eww. I say, get rid of the wimpy passage and good riddance. It’s hundreds of years too late from the earliest manuscripts, anyway.

Regarding 2), I like that long ending because it’s more useful from an apologetics standpoint. So I do care about this invariant, and I just don’t use that ending when I debate these historical issues. For 3), I prefer angry Jesus to compassionate Jesus, but I don’t really care because Jesus is angry in lots of places. And for 4) It doesn’t really matter to any core doctrine. It’s theological stuff, not historical fact.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , ,

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