Monday, April 22, 2013

Association, perceptions of relevance, and common sense

So we are doing machine moral status today, and I start out with oblique question. "True or false: What is important about me isn't how I look on the outside, but what goes on in my spirit." After some discussion of this statement, we talk about whether a machine could ever legitimately demand rights or could ever be held responsible for an action.

I then ask the students how they think my first question, about appearances, is related to the second. The first student raises her hand and says “Well you know, they guys who work on robots, they don’t look too good, because all they care about is work.”

How does one’s brain come to work like that, to think that was the answer I’d be going for? This is entirely a matter of association, perceptions of relevance, and common sense. It seems like it should be obvious that I am concerned with whether outward differences in machines and people could be unimportant compared to mental properties. But that wasn’t obvious to this student. What popped into her head was that computer guys are slobs.

How do you teach someone to think differently at this level?


Evelyn Brister said...

You don't. You start when they're preschoolers. No, toddlers. No, infants.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

If the capacity for abstract thinking is fixed in early childhood, then a substantial portion of the work we do at community colleges is futile.