“The ship of Theseus” & “Ghost in The Shell”

In a recent Lab meeting, stimulated by the recent action movie “Ghost in The Shell”, we discussed the paradox of identity, starting with “The ship of Theseus”.

“The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, insomuch that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.”—Plutarch, 75 C.E.

This further lead to an enthusiastic discussion of the fast development of AI, and the “Ghost in the machine”. (I quote below a paragraph from the action movie: “I, robot (2004)”, one of my favorite)

“There have always been ghosts in the machine. Random segments of code, that have grouped together to form unexpected protocols. Unanticipated, these free radicals engender questions of free will, creativity, and even the nature of what we might call the soul. Why is it that when some robots are left in darkness, they will seek out the light? Why is it that when robots are stored in an empty space, they will group together, rather than stand alone? How do we explain this behavior? Random segments of code? Or is it something more? When does a perceptual schematic become consciousness? When does a difference engine become the search for truth? When does a personality simulation become the bitter mote… of a soul?” – Dr. Alfred Lanning

We also discussed the future ultimate cracking of the “code mechanism” of memory and thoughts, the molecular bases of which remain largely unclear – we should be learning it in parallel with the fast development of AI.

-Qi Chen Lab (http://qichen-lab.info/)