Hubert Lederer Dreyfus and Herbert Paul Grice, Philosophers of the Limits of Computers
Hubert L. Dreyfus. His essay, "What Computers Can Not Do," made him a scourge and eventually an inspiration to researchers in artificial intelligence.
His home, like Grice's, is in Berkeley, Calif.
Dreyfus became interested in artificial intelligence when he began teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, of all places!
He often brushed shoulders with scientists trying to turn computers into reasoning machines.
"They said they could programme computers to be intelligent like people," he recalls in an interview with the Full-Tilt Boogie.
"They came to me and said, more or less:
'We don’t need Plato and Kant and Descartes anymore.'
'That was all just talk.'
'We’re going to actually do it.’”
"I really wanted to know, could they do it?"
"If they could, it was very important."
"If they could NOT do it, human beings were different than machines, and that was very important.”
After spending time at the RAND Corporation, he published “Alchemy and Artificial Intelligence,” a slashing attack on the work of Allan Newell and Herbert A. Simon, two of RAND’s leading artificial intelligence researchers, and followed with the equally provocative “What Computers Can Not Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason.”
Dreyfus argues that the dream of artificial intelligence rests on several flawed assumptions, chief among them the idea that the brain is analogous to computer hardware and the mind to computer software.
Oddly, this is the view often associated with H. P. Grice in his "Method in philosophical psychology: from the banal to the bizarre," which mainly draws on D. K. Lewis's 'functionalism' and has been made popular by discussions by Ned Block.
In Dreyfus's view, human beings develop an accurate picture of the world by adding bits of information and rearranging them in a procedure that follows predictable rules.
Dreyfus, an adherent of the French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty and the German philosopher Martin Heidegger (he had written seminal introductory works on both men), posited a different view of human beings and their interactions with the world around them.
It may well be because of Dreyfus that Grice once said, "Heidegger is the greatest living philosopher". Or not!
There was no objective set of facts outside the human mind, Dreyfus insists.
Human beings experience learning as a partly physical interaction with their surroundings, and interpreted the world, in a process of continual revision, through a socially determined filter.
Inevitably, Dreyfus says, artificial intelligence ran up against something called the common-knowledge problem (and that Grice would say is represented in the fruits of 'linguistic botanising'): the vast repository of facts and information that ordinary people possess as though by inheritance, and can draw on to make inferences and navigate their way through the world.
"Current claims and hopes for progress in models for making computers intelligent are like the belief that someone climbing a tree is making progress toward reaching the moon,” Dreyfus observes in “Mind Over Machine: The Power of Human Intuition and Expertise in the Era of the Computer," an essay he collaborated on with his brother Stuart.
Oddly, Grice also had a brother but they never collaborated other than in music! (Grice played the piano to Derek's cello!)
Dreyfus's criticisms were greeted with intense hostility in the world of artificial intelligence researchers, who remain confident that success lies within reach as computers grow more powerful.
When that did not happen, Dreyfus found himself vindicated, doubly so when research in the field began incorporating his arguments, expanded upon in a second edition of “What Computers Can Not Do” and “What Computers *Still* Can not Do."
Hubert Lederer Dreyfus was born in Terre Haute, Ind.
His father, Stanley, was in the wholesale poultry business, and his mother, Irene Lederer, was a homemaker.
Oddly, if Grice had adopted his mother's maiden name as middle name he would be Herbert Felton Grice!
At Wiley, Dreyfus's debate coach encouraged him to apply to Harvard, which he thought was in England, because of the Cambridge address!
This was possibly the coach's fault, who, violating one of Grice's maxims, should have encouraged Dreyfus to apply to JOHN Harvard's Uni!
Dreyfus was more interested in a different Cambridge school that he thought might sharpen his talent for making homemade explosives and setting them off by remote control.
"I wanted to go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology because I figured they would help me make better bombs,” Dreyfus says in an interview at the Institute of International Studies at Berkeley.
In the end, however, Dreyfus opted for Harvard (where Grice gave the seminal "Logic and Conversation" William James Lectures), where Dreyfus studied physics initially but switched majors after hearing a lecture by the philosopher C. I. Lewis -- that Grice admired!
Dreyfus received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, writing a thesis on causality in quantum mechanics, and a master’s degree.
This is a bit like Grice in Oxford only different.
Before completing his doctorate in 1964, with a dissertation on Edmund Husserl — a philosopher he later dismissed as “boring” — Dreyfus spent fellowships in Freiburg, Germany; Louvain, Belgium; and the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, absorbing the latest developments in Continental philosophy.
After returning to the United States, Dreyfus taught at Brandeis (where Grice lectured) and M.I.T. and translated, with Patricia Allen, Merleau-Ponty’s "Sense and Non-Sense.".
Like Grice, Dreyfus joined the philosophy department at Berkeley in the very same year.
Dreyfus's marriage ended in divorce.
Dreyfus, if you need to know, remarried. He married Geneviève Boissier-Dreyfus.
Dreyfus and Boissier had two children, Stéphane and Gabrielle Dreyfus.
Dreyfus went on to play a major role in explaining Continental thought in works like “Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics," written with Paul Rabinow, and "Being-in-the-World: A Commentary on Heidegger’s ‘Being and Time, Division I’."
Dreyfus co-wrote stuff with H. P. Grice mainly on David Hume's vagaries of personal identity.
With Mark Wrathall, of Riverside, California, Dreyfus edited numerous guides devoted to existentialism, phenomenology and Heidegger’s philosophy.
"It is no exaggeration to say that, insofar as English-speaking philosophers have any access at all to thinkers like Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and Michel Foucault, it is through the interpretation that Dreyfus originally offered of them,” Sean D. Kelly, of Harvard, notes.
In later years, Dreyfus turned his attention to new subjects.
With Kelly, he wrote a surprise best seller on literature, “All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age."
In “Skillful Coping: Essays on the Everyday Phenomenology of Everyday Perception and Action," an essay collection edited by Wrathall, Dreyfus employed the insights of phenomenology to explore nonreflexive action and ethics.
For his essay “Philosophy: The Latest Answers to the Oldest Questions,” Nicholas Fearn broached the topic of artificial intelligence in an interview with Dreyfus, who told him: “I don’t think about computers anymore. I figure I won and it’s over: They’ve given up.”
On the other hand, Grice would complain that his computing spell check would not recognize 'sticky wicket' and 'pirot' (as in Carnap, "Pirots karulise elatically").
The Grice/Dreyfus essay on Hume's vagaries of personal identity is, as it should, a gem!