Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Roger Penrose's talk at Google

I went to hear Roger Penrose talk about his thoughts on consciousness, understanding and intelligence. Frankly, it was unimpressive. He didn't say anything that I hadn't read before, and he seemed rather unprepared. He butchered the presentation of the Halting Problem and didn't seem to have a good grasp on Gödel's Incompleteness.

The main thesis of his talk seemed to be that intelligence required understanding and understanding, in turn, required consciousness. However, I expected that, as a scientist, he would strive to define these heavy terms as precisely as possible before making claims about relationships between them. Instead, his argument descended into a kind of pure philosophy.

At the end, I asked him a question (1:33:28) to try and get him to define the terms more carefully, but he did not feel like he needed to do that. At the end of his reply to my question, he actually said, "that's just my use of the words; I feel unhappy." I didn't mean to make him feel unhappy, but I feel that without a serious attempt at getting a consensus on the definitions of intelligence and understanding, the whole endeavour of arguing about relationships between the two is just uninspired chat that will lead to no new insights into either.