On Robots and Personal Identity

When I came across this documentary on robots and their ability to carry on a conversation between each other, the well-known ideas on the spontaneous emergence of language inevitably crossed my mind. The resemblances to Hayek’s Sensory Order are obvious as well, notwithstanding his later remarks on negative feedback processes, which involve spontaneous orders that are borrowed, precisely, from cybernetics. But what grabbed my attention the most was the importance attached to the fact that the robots had a body. According to the documentary, the shape of the body of the robots allows them to develop certain patterns of classification for facts and behavior that would be different if their bodies were different as well. In this sense, “to have a body” is a requisite characteristic of the robots to make possible artificial intelligence; to evolve following a process of negative feedback.

That brought me back the works of Peter Geach on personal identity. He confronted John Locke’s notion of personal identity as mere memory and stated, instead, that the body was essential to the said concept. Memory and human body are, in order to develop an individual personality, inherent to each other.

This is relevant to our discussions about the definition of individual freedom. If the body is inherent to our personal identity, there are not much place left for Spinoza’s freedom of thought, or inner liberty, as the ultimate definition of individual liberty. Besides freedom of thought, we need freedom to move in order to be regarded as free individuals, and our sphere of individual autonomy should be extended to our body and its surroundings. Moreover, it would be impossible to exercise any freedom of thought and expression if such individual liberties are not protected.

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4 thoughts on “On Robots and Personal Identity

  1. This reminds me of a recurring theme in Isaac Asimov’s robot stories – the shape of a robot influences its thought process.

  2. […] In another post, I mentioned the importance of having a body in order to develop a personal identity. In the same line as Hayek’s Sensory Order, the body enables us with the most elementary system of classification that makes our perceptions possible, or – to express it in a more radical empiricist strain – that brings the experience to happen. Upon this system of classification will sediment more abstract layers, or degrees, of systems of classification. Our knowledge is expressed at a level of abstraction that our mind can handle, whereas the law, the market, and the language are examples of phenomena that might achieve increasing degrees of complexity that mark blurred boundaries to our knowledge. The former are named “simple phenomena” and the latter “complex phenomena” in the Hayekian terminology. Our personal identity is continuously developing on that stratus set between the simple and the complex phenomena. […]

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