Minds, Robots, and the End of Humanity (FYS-IFS-G)

Manchester University, Fall 2017Instructor: Steve Naragon


Welcome to these online materials for the Fall 2017 FYS course on Minds, Robots, and the End of Humanity (Manchester University).

This course meets three times weekly for 50 minutes each, and is devoted to helping you develop your writing and critical thinking skills in the context of one of the most pressing — and philosophically interesting — issues of our day.

We will be considering questions such as —

• Can machines think? Can they be conscious?

• How do we know whether something — a human, another animal, a machine — is thinking or is conscious?

• How far will the automation of work reach? Which jobs will be left for human beings?

• Is artificial intelligence possible? Is artificial life possible?

• What is a person? What is a self? If they are not the same, how are they related?

• How does a person remain the same person over time and through all its many changes?

• If we succeed in creating an artificially intelligent system that is smarter than us, will we still be able to control it?

• Should we limit the development of these intelligent systems, if they present risks to human existence?

• Can we program these intelligent robots to be moral? (And what would that look like?)

— and so on.

Course Description: In a 2014 interview with the BBC, the eminent physicist Steven Hawking claimed that “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” [see] This is not a new idea in the world of film and literature: Computer code that is able to re-write and improve itself and to control robotic machines able to manipulate the physical environment (including, of course, the building of more robots), eventually becomes independent of human control, resulting in something akin to a Terminator movie. Various parts of this scenario are already happening, and the Hollywood story-line appears increasingly inevitable: “If such machines can be built, they will be built.” This seminar will explore some of the key ideas and concepts behind this story while considering the larger question of the end (or purpose) of humanity in the face of its possible end (or demise).


Contacting Me

Click on my name (above) to reach my home page with contact information and a link for my Fall schedule for 2017.

I will try to keep the office hours (Academic Center 233) indicated on the weekly schedule, but I’m happy to meet at other times as well; just see me before or after class to arrange something.  Otherwise, I am best reached by email or voice-mail left at my office (982-5041).

Manchester University   //   Registrar   //   Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies    //   Last updated: 11 Aug 2017