Bob Kohn, a fellow at the Center for the Study of the Great Ideas, has just published a book dedicated to Mortimer J. Adler: How to Build a Friendly Robot—A Philosophical Novel.
An award-winning scholar and technology lawyer, Mr. Kohn presents a realistic courtroom drama about how philosophy, not technology, will keep humanity safe from the rise of intelligent machines. In 1994, Mortimer J. Adler awarded Mr. Kohn the top prize for his solution to a philosophical problem that lies at the heart of this unique philosophical novel.
The year is 2032. Audrey Paris, former federal prosecutor and now lead attorney for the A.I. engineering team at the recently-merged Google-IBM, is thrust to the forefront of the most provocative legal battle since the Scopes monkey trial.
One of the company's humanoids is charged with murder in the second degree. Audrey moves to dismiss the case on the grounds that machines are not legal persons. The Department of Justice disagrees. Watson-5, the brains behind the humanoid, has passed the Turing Test and must be held accountable for violations of the law.
But Federal Judge Harold S. Gordon is not buying either argument and turns to Robbie, the humanoid defendant at the center of the trial. The two lock horns during a short, but ambitious journey over difficult intellectual terrain. But the exchange doesn't end well, and Audrey and the Judge find themselves in a race, not only for their own lives, but for the rest of humanity.
“The great ideas addressed by the novel were inspired by Dr. Adler’s Intellect: Mind Over Matter (1990) and his other writings on artificial intelligence,” said Mr. Kohn. “And its presentation—the form of a courtroom drama—was inspired by Dr. Adler’s Dialectic of Morals (1941).”
How to Build a Friendly Robot explores the depths of what leading scientists, like the late Stephen Hawking, have warned is the inevitable conflict between Man and Machine. Should a machine greatly surpass human beings in intelligence, what could go wrong? Are we doomed? Or can we co-exist with these super-intelligent devices?
Technologists, like Ray Kurzweil and Stuart Russell, are optimistic: Safety lies in aligning machine intelligence with human values. But what human values? And how will the machines learn them? These questions are addressed by opposing forces in a vigorous debate that spans the domains of mathematics, technology, and philosophy. The setting is fictitious, a federal courtroom, but the ideas are timeless, and the stakes are gravely real.
They say that philosophy can bake no bread. This book sets out to prove them wrong.
Mortimer J. Adler, philosopher and editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia Britannica, once posed a philosophical problem: Explain the inheritance, or genetic transmission, of superior intellectual ability in some persons without asserting that the human intellect itself is material. Judging an essay contest for the best solution to the problem, Dr. Adler awarded the top prize to Bob Kohn, writing:
"[Mr. Kohn] seemed to know best . . . where the mystery begins, what we have to concede to it, and what (by virtue of hereditary mechanisms) we do not. . . . [Kohn] showed “a gratifying familiarity with the Great Books of the Western World.”
— Mortimer J. Adler (The Great Ideas Today, 1994).
How to Build A Friendly Robot is available in Kindle and Paperback at Amazon.