The AI Dilemma: Can Intelligence Be Separated From the Body?
Starting from the concept of “Gestalt”, a set of principles well known to designers, we can say that it refers to the way in which we perceive things as an organized whole, rather than as a series of separate parts. This means that we see and experience the world as a single unique and complex entity, rather than a series of isolated elements.
Having said that, many of us wonder if intelligence can be separated from the body.
And, when it comes to AI, I wonder (and many before me have wondered) if something without a body to interact with and learn from the physical world can truly be intelligent. Mind and body cannot be considered as two separate parts, but rather as a single organized unit, right?
And in fact, how could an AI experience anything without a body? How could it know what water or bitter coffee is? It can’t, obviously. How can an AI without a body experience anything? How could it ever know the sensations of thirst or taste? It’s an idea that makes me shudder at the mere thought because it would deprive the AI of a fundamental part of being human: sensory experience and connection with the physical world.
Some researchers argue that AI will never achieve true intelligence or a true understanding of the world without a body capable of perceiving, reacting, and feeling the surrounding environment. The lack of a body for AI can lead to dangerous errors as it doesn’t have the ability to explore and understand the limits of the physical world, as children do, for example. For this reason, the concept of intelligent minds separate from the body is considered inappropriate or even dangerous for people’s safety.
I read in an article from The New York Times that in California, a company called Embodied has created Moxie, the first (?) robot in the world that possesses a combination of great linguistic and physical abilities. Moxie is turquoise, the size of a small child, has a drop-shaped head, soft hands, and bright green eyes.
Inside its cuddly and cute plastic body (I bet it even smells nice), there is a processor that works with the same type of software as ChatGPT and GPT-4. Moxie’s creators conceived it in 2017 to help children with developmental disorders practice emotional awareness and communication.
In a way, therefore, the idea of designing a robot like Moxie is similar to the concept of “gestalt”, in which the human experience is seen as a unique and organized entity.
However, the existential question remains: can artificial intelligence ever match human intelligence? Perhaps. Perhaps, with the physical presence of a body, a true artificial mind will also emerge.
Or, perhaps, instead of trying to measure the intelligence of machines against that of humans, we should consider it as a different and complementary form of intelligence and start using it to improve life, work, existence.
*The principles of Gestalt include: simplicity, figure-ground, proximity, similarity, common fate, symmetry, continuity, closure, common region, and element connectedness.