Minds, Machines, and Molecules

Philosophical Topics 48 (1):221-241 (2020)

Abstract

Recent debates about the biological and evolutionary conditions for sentience have generated a renewed interest in fine-grained functionalism. According to one such account advanced by Peter Godfrey-Smith, sentience depends on the fine-grained activities characteristic of living organisms. Specifically, the scale, context and stochasticity of these fine-grained activities. One implication of this view is that contemporary artificial intelligence is a poor candidate for sentience. Insofar as current AI lacks the ability to engage in such living activities it will lack sentience, no matter what its coarse-grained functions. In this paper, we review the case for fine-grained functionalism and show that there are contemporary machines that fulfil the fine-grained functional criteria identified by Godfrey-Smith, and thus are candidates for sentience. Molecular machines such as Brownian computers are analogous to metabolic activity in their scale, context and stochasticity, and can serve as the basis of AI. Molecular computation is a promising candidate for artificial sentience according to contemporary philosophical accounts of sentience.

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Author Profiles

Marta Halina
Cambridge University
Tim Brunet
University of Windsor

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