How People Are Like Robots

Philosopher and Cognitive Scientist
If you look inside each neuron in the human brain, you will find motor proteins that are a bit of mindless nano-engineering.
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Question: How are people similar to robots?

Daniel Dennett:    We’re robots, made of robots, made of robots, made of robots.  You’ve got billions, several hundred billion probably cell neurons in your brain.  Each one of those neurons is eukaryotic cell with nucleus and with mitochondria and it’s a direct descendant of free swimming, free living autonomous little single celled organisms that have been around for billions of years.

And if you look inside each neuron you find that there are motor proteins in there; little motor proteins are certainly a robot.  It’s not alive.  It’s a bit of nano-engineering that does all sorts of interesting works, it’s mindless and that’s what we’re made off. 

Now, in a way when you think about it, that way you realize how outrageously ambitious it is to make a humanoid robot that has the power of a human brain when the modeling of the individual neurons is extremely crude compared to what the brain can do.  The brain has literally trillions and trillions of moving parts.  The most elaborate robot yet conceived, and counting the chip as a collection of moving parts, doesn’t have trillions of moving parts.  It’s by orders of magnitude simpler. 

Recorded March 6, 2009.