(A)I: On the Possibility of Separation between Hardware and Software

Whenever we start drawing parallels between men and computing machines we are bound to notice a particular incongruence rather quickly. Namely, men are apparently more indivisible than machines. That is to say, whereas we can talk of a computer requiring some hardware and some software to function, a man cannot be so easily disunited. A man has a brain that we may be tempted to associate with a processor and even memory (hardware), but it is not clear what part of a man we would want to label software. If we point to DNA or RNA, we do not ameliorate our difficulties. For one thing, that “software” creates its own hardware so that it is unintelligible to talk about a man without genetic code. There cannot be a human with “software” but no “hardware”. Of course, on machines today there certainly can be.

I’m not sure that this makes talking about artificial intelligence more difficult, but it may confuse the picture if not mentioned at the onset of a discussion. It can make the term “computer” somewhat ambiguous to the modern mind – and the object of artificial intelligence potentially elusive. If we inspect the hardware of a machine apart from the software, say, powered off – there would be very little of interest going on. If we took the software apart from the hardware, say, printed out – I think we’d have a hard time finding signs of intelligence then too. Only when the software is coupled with the hardware do interesting things become possible. Even when software can be embedded into hardware, it is easy for the concepts to admit separation. This may simply be due to the familiar organization of modern computers, but it may also be indicative of something more interesting – we should at least keep it in the back of our minds.

For now, at least to start, when discussing computers in relation to intelligence, it seems clear to me that we would do well to always discuss them as a bundle of software and hardware to avoid confusion. Despite the fact that one may install some “intelligent” program along many other programs, every program requires hardware to run. It is all too easy to think of the program itself as the sole cause of certain behavior – it should not be forgotten that the hardware is no less important in manifesting that behavior. So we are on the same page, in all that follows, unless I specify otherwise, when I talk of computers or computing machines, I am referring to a hardware-software couple. I am regarding the machine then, in that sense, as indivisible as a man.

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