We are well beyond Frankenstein and the experience that the machine—“it’s alive”! As we continue to rely on Suri’s for GPS directions, “self”-checkout aisles, or the artificial intelligence of robotic vision and other digital trends, philosophers cannot help but to address the ontology and selfhood of automation. It seems clear that machines can function as selves, in Kant’s full sense of understanding and determinate judgments laid out in the Critique of Pure Reason.
We can analogize Kant’s analysis of human cognition and the synthesizing of the “sensible manifold” with the “content” and “form” of computer programming, for example. What distinguishes human experience from machines, aside from the flood of our emotions, feelings, and spontaneous anticipations, lies in the power of reflective judgment. Reflection is the hallmark of human experience according to Kant’s Critique of Judgment and all our determinate judgments presuppose it; otherwise how would we be aware of our actions? In the history of philosophical idealism the difference between the self and person stems from this distinction between cognitive determination and reflection. So far as we know, machines lack this power of reflection. We have read or seen examples of it in science fiction and the movies, but is it possible that super-computers or other forms of hyper-technology can perform reflection in the way Kant describes which is representative of persons, who have their own teleological purposes or wills?