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The Philosophical Implications of Artificial Intelligence (the Movie) in Philosophy of Mind

Updated on March 27, 2018



The study of intelligence is also one of the oldest disciplines. For over 2000 years, philosophers have tried to understand how seeing, learning, remembering, and reasoning could, or should, be done. The advent of usable computers in the early 1950s turned the learned but armchair speculation concerning these mental faculties into a real experimental and theoretical discipline. The field of artificial intelligence, or AI, attempts to understand intelligent entities. Thus, one reason to study it is to learn more about ourselves. But unlike philosophy and psychology, which are also concerned with intelligence, AI strives to build intelligent entities as well as understand them. AI addresses one of the ultimate puzzles. How is it possible for a slow, tiny brain, whether biological or electronic, to perceive, understand, predict, and manipulate a world far larger and more complicated than itself? How do we go about making something with those properties? To understand the concept of AI, we must define what it is from the right outlook. In respect to this, our attention shall be directed into the concept of AI, synopsis of AI (Movie) and the criticisms of AI using John Searle’s Chinese Room Argument. We shall also look at the philosophical implications of AI using Steven Spielberg’s Movie (AI) and finally, we shall conclude.


The Concept of Mind: When we talk of the mind, we are not talking of the soul or spirit for the mind is not the soul nor is it the spirit. Rather, the mind is a faculty, the cognitive faculty, the power to think and to know. The mind therefore is a characteristic of the human brain that encompasses thought, reason, memory, consciousness, and self-awareness.[1]

Philosophy of Mind: Philosophy of mind is the branch of philosophy which investigates the nature of the human and its relationship with the body. It is thus a study of the human mind (mental events, mental functions, mental properties and consciousness) and its relationship with the body.[2]

Artificial: By artificial is meant that which is made by man. It means not natural.

Intelligence: Intelligence is that quality that enables an entity to function appropriately and with foresight in its environment.

Artificial intelligence therefore, from the above conceptualized theories is that activity devoted to making machines intelligent. The whole project of AI aims at imposing human abilities on machines. We shall therefore direct our attention to the interest of artificial intelligence using Steven Spielberg’s philosophical film titled “Artificial Intelligence (2001)” as a foundation in understanding the Philosophy of artificial intelligence.


Having considered what AI is, it is important to give a deep analysis of this concept. Attention shall be paid to the different scholars that have contributed to the AI field. We have described AI as the move to make machines imitate human intelligent behavior, to reason, learn and improve after experience. But in a sense, AI also involves extending human intelligence using computers in the same way human capacity for work was extended through the use of mechanical tools.

Consequently, AI is concerned with the construction of intelligent systems and their analysis which is the capacity of a device to perform activities which would otherwise only be expected of the human brain. These activities include the capacity for knowledge and the ability to acquire it. It also comprises of the ability to judge, understand relationships and last but not lease produce original thoughts. However, this plausible explication of the AI concept will lead us to see AI as a multifaceted tool of Thought Processes and reasoning; Behaviour; and lastly, the ideal concept of Human Performance. Thought Processes: AI is seen as that effort to make computers think with mind in the full sense. AI is also defined the automation of activities that we associate with human thinking, activities such as decision-making, problem solving, learning.[3] Bahaviour: AI is seen as the act of creating machines that perform functions that require intelligence when performed by people. It is also seen as “the study of how to make computers do things at which, at the moment, people are better[4] Human Performance: AI is seen as the study of mental faculties through use of computational models. It is also seen as “the study of the computations that make it possible to perceive, reason, and act[5]


Artificial intelligence unfolds the futuristic narrative of David, an advanced generation robot-boy who replaces Monica and Henry Swinton’s son Martin, who having fallen gravely ill, is cryogenically preserved until such time as a cure may become available. This possibility seems increasingly remote, however, Monica and Henry decides to acquire one of the new generation of robots to fill the gap left. David arrives in their home and it is impressed on Monica that, before she activates the imprinting Protocol code-sequence which guarantees that David will become as attached to her as any human boy could, she should be very sure that she wants him as her son. A very crucial point in the movie occurs when David changes from an intelligent, companionable machine that resembles a human child, to an intelligent machine that simulates being-human in a very specific sense that may be described as ‘loving another’ and, even more importantly, ‘wanting to be loved by another’. More or less predictably, Monica and her husband were informed that their real son has recovered from the affliction which incapacitated him and before long David finds himself in a situation he is unaccustomed to, namely to have to share his mother with someone else named Martin. In the middle of the movie due to Martin’s immense cruelty towards David, Monica takes David


It is pertinent to note that AI is an offshoot of functionalism, a materialist position on mind which describes the mind as some kind of software for the physical brain as hardware. And so, the discussion on AI is broadly divided into two namely: Strong AI and Weak AI. Among the exponents of these views, the group known as Strong AI argues that it is possible that one day a computer will be invented which can be called a mind in the fullest sense. This implies that it will be capable of mental activities such as thinking, reasoning and imagining. Strong AI views human cognition as computational. Since the reality is made up of one substance, matter, the physical or material brain functions because some software called mind supports it.

However, the second group, Weak AI, on the other hand, argues that computers can only appear to think and are not actually conscious in the same way as human brains are. Ultimately, machines cannot possess the intelligence humans possess because the much they can do is imitate this intelligence; since that which imitates cannot be what it imitates. So, with weak AI, it is hope that we can know how the human mind works, not necessarily because the human mind is like a computer software, but precisely because by studying it, we can understand the causal relationship between the hardware and the software and vice versa and then we can make analogical comparisons of the computer and the human person.


Alan Turing (1912-54), an English mathematician developed a test in defense of Artificial Intelligence. The test is based on something called the “Imitation Game” in which 3 people, each in separate rooms, communicate via Teletype. Each of the 3 people has a specific role: one acts as an interrogator whose job is to find out what sex the other two people are; (one man and one woman) one whose role is to answer honestly and the other dishonestly. The interrogator must therefore answer the interrogator’s questions. This game involves replacing one of the people with a computer that has been programmed to deceive the interrogator, if, as with a human subject, the interrogator was deceived a certain percentage of the time (say 70%) then the machine can be said to have passed the test.

However, there currently exist no computers that can get anywhere near passing this test. This is because any interrogator would find it easy to devise questions which a machine would find difficulty answering. The imitation game known as the Turing Test is an argument for Strong AI. [6]

Furthermore, to demonstrate the near impossible mission of Strong AI, especially where it considers human mental phenomena in terms of computationalism, John Searle proposed his Chinese room experiment. Our focus shall be drawn to John Searle’s Chinese Room Argument in the next page.


John Searle critiqued Alan Turing’s argument. He considers that he is placed inside a room in China. He does not know any Chinese but he is to receive requests written in Chinese slotted through the door of the Chinese room. In the room are boxes of materials that the requests pertain. In the room also, he has a big rule book which he understands and which he uses to deliver in response to the requests of the Chinese people outside the door, who would conclude that it is a Chinese man who is inside the room. Searle argues that there is no way he would understand Chinese by simply following instructions in the rule book and giving output based on the requests of those outside the room.

In addition, he argues that computers behave in the same way by simply computing variables and that computers lack the intrinsic ability to learn. Thus, he rules that human cognition is not merely computational and so Strong AI is false. Hence, the Turing Test is inadequate. Also, he argues that the human minds are not computer-like computational or information processing systems but that which must have resulted from biological processes; computers can at best simulate these biological processes. In other words, while the human mind is biological, computers cannot be biological; the term artificial even betrays this weakness of Strong AI.


Having considered the structure of AI and its substructures, it is crucial to nosedive headlong into its philosophical implications. A paradigm we shall employ is the AI Movie. The perspective of the film is from the robot characters’ point of view. Most of the humans in AI act coldly and are hateful. Much of humanity is the enemy. David the robot shows the most amount of empathy, much more than all the human characters put together. The primary thematic question of AI, the general organizing principle of the entire film, the question which the film explores from the beginning to end is this: What is consciousness? Having carefully examined AI (Movie), we shall therefore group the Movie according to three parts namely 1. The Heart. 2. The Body and 3. The Mind.


This part asks the questions: what are feelings? What is love? In the movie, we see the familial bonding between David and Monica. This part also focuses on the family. It explores the priority of the blood bond between humans. Human nature is assumed to be more real than manufactured consciousness. Humans seeing themselves as natural feel they have a priority over machines. Hence, Monica is able to abandon David by the side of the road. She takes her love away, leaving David heartbroken.


Part two surveys the plexus of sex, death and factuality. A character showcased in the movie is Gigolo a sex machine of bodily passion. In addition, the movie displays the Mecca Trash Dump which signifies the limitations of the material form i.e. conscious beings are things in the world. The trash Dump is a graveyard of body parts which is the death of the body.


Part three surveys the concept of consciousness and time. David is taken to an alien world. He inhabits a recreation of the Swintons’ home, an image plucked out of his memory circuits. Recalling Part IV of 2001, David moves through a recognizable place built by an alien consciousness for his benefit. While Bowman lives out the rest of his life in his eighteenth century room, David will live only one single day in the house from an earlier time. “He went to that place where dreams are born.” The world inside his head. To enter a dream world, and to stay there for Eternity: to become, in dreaming sleep, a disembodied consciousness, never to return to the confines of the body: this is the apotheosis of mind, an analogue of a god.


From the foregoing, we have seen that AI is a logical conclusion of materialism especially functionalism. It has been shown that AI has the capacity for seemingly intelligent actions. However, this does not imply that it has mind. Notwithstanding, this might be a possibility for machines to simulate the mind as claimed by the functionalists. Nevertheless, the fact remains that man as AI’s maker will always have a higher grade of intelligence in as much as AI is an imitation of the human mind.

Therefore, it is plausible to posit that while the film, of course, is to be enjoyed by humans in the present time; someday AI might have a long shelf life and enduring popularity and still remain a film that will still be relevant throughout the rest of earthly experience.

[1] The Artificial Intelligence Dictionary (1991), s.v. “Microtrend Books.”

[2] Cf. Joseph Omoregbe, Philosophy of Mind (Lagos: Joja Press Limited, 2001),

[3] Cf. Stuart J. Russell and Peter Norvig, Artificial Intelligence, A Modern Approach (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1995), p..5.

[4] Cf. Stuart J. Russell and Peter Norvig. Artificial Intelligence, A Modern Approach (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1995), p..5.

[5] Cf. Stuart J. Russell and Peter Norvig, Artificial Intelligence, A Modern Approach (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1995), p..5.

[6] Cf. A.M. Turing, Computer Machinery and Intelligence in John Haugeland, Mind Design II (London: MIT Press, 1997), p.29.



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