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Science, Reason, and Robots

Ubiquity, Volume 2016 Issue March, March 2016 | BY Philip Yaffe 

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Pierre, Thanks for your comment about my article. Your point is well taken, but I think we are talking at cross purposes. As I suggested (apparently not well enough), superior is a weasel word because neither Cutie nor the astronauts recognizes that superior = better than is meaningless without initial agreement on what makes something superior or better than, what you call goodness value. The point is, in simple conversation we all use weasel words because they act as a convenient shorthand, e.g. freedom, democracy, beauty, elegance, morality, spirituality, etc. However, when we use such words in serious discussions in order to come to serious conclusions, they must be specified. Otherwise, agreement, or even compromise, becomes difficult, if not impossible. Here is a more down-to-earth example (if you will pardon the pun). You enter a room where there are two other people and say, Its very hot today. Each of them rightly understands hot to mean above what is generally considered to be temperate, cool, or cold. However, suppose one of those people comes from Alaska; in his mind he interprets hot to mean about 25°C (77°F). The other one comes from Texas; to him hot means 45°C (113°F). You are off to a rather bad start, because each one has a totally different idea of what you want to them to know. But suppose you say, Its very hot today; the temperature is 30°C (86°F). Now there is no room for confusion. They both know quite clearly that it is 30°C outside and that you consider this to be very hot.

��� Philip Yaffe, Wed, 11 May 2016 08:56:33 UTC

I would say the weasel words argument is incorrect. "Superior" has the same meaning for Donovan and Powell as well as Cutie. Namely, "greater than", or "better than". By itself, "superior" is an abstract concept. It is only when being applied to two objects that it "acts": it sorts them according to some attributes that can be compared. So far, everyone in the story agrees. The difference arises because the objects that are being compared are made of stuff that Cutie assigns a different "goodness" value to than Donovan and Powell. Cutie gives itself a value V_robot that is higher than V_human, and the other way round for the astronauts. The concept "superior" however has the same meaning for all.

��� Pierre, Wed, 27 Apr 2016 06:58:38 UTC

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