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Can a machine know?

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Thesis: Unlike humans, machines have pre-programmed and repeatable knowledge. A machine is "any mechanical or electrical device that transmits or modifies energy to perform or assist in the performance of human tasks."1 Basically, a machine is a human-made system or device made up of fixed and moving parts that perform tasks. In order to ascertain machines' ability to know it is important to be aware of what it is to know. Knowing is attributed to living things be it plants or animals. It is appropriate to make an analogy between a machine's competencies to know with that of human beings because humans are superior to all living things in knowledge. What do humans mean when they say they know something? They mean that they have learned some facts about a particular subject. Additionally, they mean that they have an understanding of the relationships, significance and sources of that subject. If that is what knowing is all about, then machines could also have the capacity to know. Nevertheless, comprehension, a human ability, is based on learned facts, interactions, growth, experiences, change, judgments and other active processes. Hence, machines can only know in terms of how they have been programmed and their complexity. Theoretically, most machines do not have the ability to think as they are designed to act upon certain commands. If we consider knowledge as fact-based and a measure of memory as a result of experience or learning, then we can say that a machine can know. ...read more.


Sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch allow humans to interpret and analyze knowledge in an in-depth manner, while computers will only acquire knowledge through the information itself. This can be linked to emotion as humans often make knowledge and emotion interfere with each other, while computers do not have feelings. For instance a person's perception of the word "love" is associated with emotional and expressive attachments, unlike a computer. As the person might recall the first time he/she fell in love, whether it was a good or bad experience while computers only express pre-programmed knowledge in absence of emotions and feelings. Hence computers can know but not the complete degree, just a broad definition. One might argue that computers can be developed having the ability to scientifically analyze "love" and many other such words and phrases and reason them out with more depth. Yet the level of what machines can know still differs from and is inferior to human experiences. Machinery cannot perceive things as it is only through senses that we can have perception. Also it is very rare that a computer will have a justification of its actions. Unless, it is programmed to do so as a part of that machines reasoning. Hence, a machine is unable to achieve knowledge through perception and the use of the senses when it comes to such abstract and subjective topics of discussion. ...read more.


4 With the support of the great scientist's second law of robotics, we can say that though robots are made to resemble humans and carry out tasks like humans, yet they lack the ability to think and reason. That is exactly why a robot in the ball manufacturing factory would not send the damaged ball for recycling while a human doing the same job would send the ball to the recycling department as he/she understands that it is not of the right quality and it needs to be changed. Hence, though robots are human-like devices, they cannot reason and think like humans and thus, cannot know like humans. Information is ordered data and is only a component of knowledge. Knowledge derives from placing information alongside practical experience - applying it in the real world. Information is embedded in machines by way of computer programs and therefore they are mechanical. Whereas, humans can use information and parallel to what they already know in order to acquire new knowledge and increase their coherence. Something machines are incapable of doing. Hence, we can say that machines can know, but they only know to a simpler level comparing to what humans know as a result of emotion, perception and reasoning. Interestingly a lot of research and work is being done towards artificial intelligence which is the use of programs to enable machines to perform tasks which humans perform using their intelligence. Since, man made machines, the latter's ability to know cannot supersede that of human beings even if artificial intelligence succeeds. ...read more.

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