Considering a future where AI systems have advanced to create humanoid robots that can behave and appear indistinguishably human, yet remain without consciousness, could we say these AI systems are actual embodiments of the philosophical zombies?

If not, what are the distinctions?

  • 1
    Good question! Two branches of philosophia intersect. It's been worrying me for some time now. Aug 4, 2023 at 15:40
  • 1
    @AgentSmith I guess you are not an AI or a zombie then.
    – Scott Rowe
    Aug 4, 2023 at 18:05
  • 1
    @ScottRowe In what world are you so confident Agent Smith isn't an LLM? ; )
    – J D
    Aug 4, 2023 at 21:31
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    Well, how do you know they remain without consciousness? Anything could be conscious and you wouldn't know.
    – causative
    Aug 5, 2023 at 0:21
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    @ScottRowe, I'm clinically ... er ... I mean I'm legally blind. Blessed are the sighted. Eyes ... did ya know there's a 3 volume tome, each 1k pages long, on the retina alone? Aug 5, 2023 at 17:59

3 Answers 3

  1. Task execution: An advanced AI-controlled humanoid robot can be programmed to perform specific tasks and carry out complex actions in the physical world. It can manipulate objects, navigate environments, interact with humans, and perform various functions based on its programming and sensory inputs. A philosophical zombie, lacking consciousness, would not have the ability to execute tasks or interact with the world in a purposeful manner.
  2. Learning and adaptation: AI-controlled humanoid robots can learn from their experiences and update their behaviors accordingly. Through machine learning algorithms, they can analyze data, extract patterns, and improve their performance over time. They can adapt to new situations and optimize their actions based on feedback. A philosophical zombie, lacking consciousness and subjective experience, would not have the capacity to learn or adapt its behaviors.
  3. Decision-making: Advanced AI-controlled humanoid robots can process information, assess different options, and make decisions based on predefined rules or machine learning algorithms. They can evaluate inputs, weigh probabilities, and choose actions that align with their programmed objectives. A philosophical zombie, lacking consciousness, would not possess the capacity to make decisions or engage in intentional thought processes.
  4. Communication and interaction: AI-controlled humanoid robots can engage in natural language processing, speech recognition, and generation, allowing them to communicate with humans and respond to inquiries or commands. They can understand and generate meaningful responses in real-time. A philosophical zombie, lacking consciousness, would not possess the ability to engage in meaningful communication or generate coherent responses.
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    A philosophical zombie is "physically identical to a normal person but does not have conscious experience. For example, if a philosophical zombie were poked with a sharp object, it would not feel any pain, but it would behave exactly the way any conscious human would". If you're pointing out ways they'd behave differently from how a human would, you're not talking about a philosophical zombie.
    – NotThatGuy
    Aug 4, 2023 at 23:47
  • We should hire AIs, but not zombies.
    – Scott Rowe
    Aug 5, 2023 at 21:50

This is probably not what you are looking for as an answer but I doubt machines will ever be able to self-repair as living organisms do all the time. So the difference between Robot Joe and Zombie Joe would be that the latter can heal when scrached while the former cannot.

  • 1
    This is just an engineering problem. Nothing stops the robot from replacing its own parts when they wear or get damaged. Healing damage on a microscopic scale without replacing the whole part would be more of a challenge, but basically it's just a question of how big or small the replaceable parts are.
    – causative
    Aug 5, 2023 at 0:24
  • Right, one could engineer a self-repairing robot. Still, the robot's way of self-repairing would be very different from what a living organisms does: when it's hand gets too scratched or damaged, it would replace it with a new one, not heal it. There would be other differences between a living organisms and a robotic copy, which would all have to see with the difference between living matter and inanimate one (reproduction, eating, excretion, sleeping, etc.).
    – Olivier5
    Aug 5, 2023 at 6:07

A philosophical zombie can behave and appear indistinguishably human, yet remain without consciousness.

So if your AI can behave and appear indistinguishably human, yet remain without consciousness, that could classify as a (behavioral) philosophical zombie.

That said, you've just claimed that the AI wouldn't have consciousness. If they can behave and appear indistinguishably human, one might posit whether there is any difference them and humans, with respect to consciousness (i.e. that either both have consciousness, or neither does).

If such AIs were created, this would certainly do a lot of damage to dualism and the idea of some sort of non-emergent or non-physical consciousness. That would be about as close as we can get to falsifying dualism (even though dualism seems fairly absurd from a scientific point of view, given modern scientific knowledge, and it's strictly-speaking unfalsifiable, with no supporting evidence).

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