Kevin Warwick: The Man in the Mind of the Machine

June 25th, 1999 | Category: Interviews

Kevin WarwickDescribed a short time ago as Britain’s leading prophet of the robot age, Professor Kevin Warwick is head of the Cybernetic Department at The University of Reading. He has designed countless machines that learn amazingly complex behaviors on their own. He is currently involved in a computer/human interface experiment that finds him with an active microchip implanted in his arm. The chip sets off sensors, causing them to activate various processes as he walks by.

Roy Christopher: Your contention is that machines will eventually — and in the not too distant future — usurp our place in this world through their superior intelligence and strength. What evidence do you present to detractors of this theory?

Kevin Warwick: For this, I hope you’ll read my book In the Mind of the Machine. The logic is fairly simple. What is it that puts humans in the relatively dominant position we are in on earth?

I believe it is our intelligence, coupled with the power to do something about it. So if something more intelligent and more powerful comes along, the logic is that it will, most likely, be in the driving seat.

If this is accepted, the argument is then directly down to will/can machines be more intelligent than humans? Even Roger Penrose agrees that this is the important question, and that if machines do become more intelligent than humans, we have problems.

Can machines be more intelligent than humans? Read my book!

RC: Roger Penrose, Jaron Lanier and other notable scientists constantly argue that conscious machines will ever exist. Do you see any validity in their claims that consciousness contains ‘uncomputable ingredients’?

KW: I’m afraid that I am a very practical guy. Our brains are made up of an extremely complex network of cells. That’s it! This thing that is human consciousness comes from that — but there’s nothing magic about it. If ‘uncomputable ingredients’ exist at present then we just don’t understand enough of what’s going on. However I don’t really believe that uncomputable elements do exist.

I feel that machines can be conscious, but in a machine like way which depends on their brain make up and the way they sense the world — just as is true about human consciousness.

RC: Given your controversial thoughts on AI and robotics, do you fear commercial and military (as opposed to academic) advancements in this area?

KW: Most certainly it is the commercial, military and hence political areas where the dangers lie. Academics are generally fairly open, other than those working directly for (money for) the above, and present their material openly.

RC: Who do you admire doing science today?

KW: I like some of Rodney Brooks’ robots. I like some of Hans Moravec‘s thinking. I admire Roger Penrose’s philosophy, even though I don’t agree with it. Mitch Resnick does some good stuff with Lego.

RC: Any other facet of your work or any new projects I didn’t mention that you’d like to bring up?

KW: Are you up on the chip experiments? If not try [these articles from CNN.com]:

Further Posting:

One Comment »

  • John Waudby said:

    This book has profound and frightening conclusions.
    As a student of comparative theology, the text tests the roots of our own creation, (or evolution)?
    Vis: “is it possible to create a thing that surpasses one’s own intellectual abilities?”
    If so, it could mean that we, in our bumbling progress, may well have overtaken our creator. I cannot accept this possibility. God is omnipotent, omniscient and omni-present.
    But, accepting that a computer data-base can contain far more information than a human memory, “knowledge is simply a fuel: it needs the motor of understanding to convert it into power.” (John Wyndham, The Midwich Cuckoos).
    Best regards,
    John Waudby, BSc, MBL, PhD, DD,