Skip to content ↓

Is my teacher a robot?

As part of their Philosophy of the Mind unit, boys in Year 8 at Warwick School were asked to submit an assignment based on the question 'Is my teacher a robot?'. Mrs Jacka has chosen Alex and Isaac's assignments to showcase as outstanding pieces of work, and was relieved that both boys concluded that she was indeed human! 

Is my teacher a robot? By Alex Bosworth (8G)

There are so many parts to one’s identity that the fact that they are a human could be questioned. For instance, there are arguments over whether a person has a mind or not, and whether Artificial Intelligence can be on par to human thinking. These questions really make you think about your perception of people and their thinking functions. As the field of robotics and AI rapidly gets more advanced, creating hyper-intelligent robots that can also move in a human-like way is getting more possible and may be possible today. So, is my teacher a robot?

One argument for my teacher being a robot is an idea called solipsism, created by Descartes. He said, “We can only know our own mind, and we are alone, surrounded by ‘bodies’ of which we have no understanding.” This quote means that we only know our own mind, so we know we are human, but we do not know the inner workings of the people around us, which are just ‘bodies’. I believe this to be a more persuasive idea, because it would be an assumption to presume that people around us have a similar mind. This might suggest that my teacher is a robot, as I only know my mind and not hers, so I don’t know if she is human or not.

Descartes’ idea was countered by J.S. Mill, who tried to solve the problem of solipsism. Using an analogy, he argued, “Because other people’s bodies and behaviors are observably similar to ours, they must think and feel in the same way we do.” This is an empiricist view (the idea that only things that can be physically tested are true), and it suggests that because people look and behave like us, they must think like us as well. I believe this is an less persuasive idea, as it assumes that people think like us, and it has no fact to back it up. Also, there are huge numbers of characteristics we don’t share with others, showing we are different and unique to them. This view might suggest that my teacher isn’t a robot, as Mrs Jacka acts like everyone else and looks like a normal human.

The Greek philosopher Plato provided a solution to the mind-body problem (what is the relationship between the physical and mental world?), which is the idea of Dualism. His idea is that the mind is a separate entity to the body. He said, “The philosopher more than any other men frees the soul from association with the body as much as possible.” His argument relied on the idea that the soul is immortal and always stays the same, whereas the body is mortal and does change. I believe Plato’s idea to be less persuasive as there is no evidence that the mind is separate to the body. Plato’s theory would suggest my teacher couldn’t be a robot as no robot has a soul, and a robot is built of material things, and no immaterial things.

Thomas Hobbes suggested the idea of Materialism, which is where the mind is a component of the body. He said that, “A thinking thing is something corporeal.” Corporeal means ‘having a body’, so Hobbes means that something can only be classed as a thinking organism if it has a body. I believe this idea to be strong, as it uses logic and is very clear. This might suggest that my teacher is a robot, as the mind exists inside the body. Richard Dawkins would support this idea, saying, “Life is just bytes and bytes and bytes of digital information. This also suggests that my teacher could be a robot, because if life is digital information, a robot uses digital information as well.

However, probably the largest bit of evidence against my teacher’s existence as a robot is movement. This link shows the current most technically advanced robot moving: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sBBaNYex3E. Atlas, the robot, shows a wide range of technical movements, but they are very clunky and awkward looking. My teacher could do these movements much more smoothly. Here is another video to the same robot walking: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVlhMGQgDkY. This is indeed walking, but it is very clunky and non-human looking. This is a video of a human walking: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8Veye-N0A4&list=PLTqnwrldLtRB8XRLfJKQZ3RFupxJ_QspE&index=3. My teacher walks like this, which is a lot smoother and less awkward. People bob up and down when walking, but robots do not. This strongly suggests my teacher isn’t a robot, because her walking is not robotic and clunky, but smooth and effortless.

In conclusion, I believe my teacher is not a robot and is human because in the current field of robotics and AI, a robot is either a ‘thinking’ robot or a ‘moving’ robot. Atlas, the robot in the videos is a moving robot. It cannot think very well and cannot express and views. Sophia, the most advanced robot with AI, thinks very well and expresses preferences all the time. She thinks very well but doesn’t move at all. My teacher can move smoothly and effortlessly, while thinking deep philosophical thoughts. This shows Mrs Jacka isn’t a robot, as no robot as of now is as advanced as her. However, in future movement wouldn’t be the main defining feature, and the defining feature would be a display of empathy. A robot would be great at answering factual questions, but empathy would be very hard for a programmer to program into a robot. In future, that would be the defining feature of whether a human would be a robot or not.

Is my teacher a robot? By Isaac Crow (8O)

This essay will portray an argument over the question, Is my teacher a robot? Many scholars throughout time have battled to find their own answer to what is known as the mind-body problem and have competed against each other on finding the most believed answer. The goal of this essay is to find out if my teacher is a robot by finding out if she has a mind and if that means that she is human or robot. In this essay I will portray scholarly views that argue each way about the mind body problem and at the end, come to a conclusion of whether my teacher is a robot or not. But first, what are the ideas that suggest she could be a robot?

Thomas Hobbes was a philosopher who lived from 1588-1679 and he said, “A thinking thing is something corporeal, this is because it seems that the subjects are comprehensible only if they are conceived as corporeal or material.” This portrays a materialist view explaining that things are only real if they are material or corporeal which means you can physically touch them or see them. I think this is a valid idea because it is very logical and because the things we know for sure exist can be either physically touched or seen. This may support the view that my teacher is a robot because it either means no minds exist which means a robot doesn’t need one to be human or a mind can be part of a machine. The idea that man is machine was also concluded by a man named Julian Offray de la Mettrie when he said “Man is Machine” this also depicts the fact that all people are robots suggest that my teacher is a robot.

Richard Dawkins is a modern-day thinker and a famous biologist who would also support this idea as he is also a Materialist shown when he said, “There is no spirit-driven life force.'' This view suggests that there is no soul or mind that exists separately from the body. I think that this isn’t a valid idea because if we didn’t have a soul or mind then we wouldn’t have any emotions and imagination. Dawkins' view might support my teacher being a robot because of the same reasons for Hobbes’ argument about you not needing a soul to be human. Gottfried Leibniz was a philosopher from 1646-1716. He was the man that concluded that rational thought could be organised into a universal logical language which he called Characteristica universalis. He believed that this language would pave the way for machines that could understand this language and could therefore think. This idea was summed up when he said “This language will be the great instrument of reason.” I believe that this idea is valid because it makes sense that we could teach a robot to be like us through a language as it is a little bit like teaching a foreigner the cultural traditions of the new country they are in. This idea might support the idea that my teacher is a robot because someone might have trained her in the language to act like a human and might be a robot teacher!

On the other side of the argument, is a man named Plato. He lived approximately from 428 BC to 348 BC and was a dualist. He said, “The philosopher more than other men frees the soul from association with the body as much as possible.” This view suggests that the mind and the body are completely separate and that the soul is eternal and the body is not. I think this is a valid idea as that would explain why we cannot find the soul in a person's body because it is separate from the body as stated in the quote above from Plato’s book Phaedo. This probably suggests that my teacher is a robot because even if my teacher was a high tech robot she would not have a mind because a mind isn’t made of physical matter meaning you can’t put it in a robot.

Alan Turing was a mathematician and computer pioneer who lived from 1912 to 1945. He invented the Turing Test which was a test that Robots took to see if they could be deemed intelligent. In this test a person will ask a computer some questions and if the computer can trick the person into thinking it is a human then it is deemed intelligent. I believe that this is a valid idea because we do not believe that we have made a robot that can have a mind and can think like a human yet which links to the fact that no robot has passed the Turing Test meaning that the test works and his idea is valid. This view suggests that my teacher isn’t a robot because my teacher is able to answer all the kind of Turing Test questions meaning she cannot be a robot as none have passed the test.

Renee Descartes was a man who lived from 1596 to 1650 and believed in a stemmed type of dualism called rationalism. He famously concluded, “Cogito ergo sum” which means ‘I think, therefore I am’ This quote suggests that humans must have a spiritual soul that is in are bodies but the two are separate things and that minds are immortal but bodies are mortal. I believe that this is also a valid idea for the same reason that I believe Plato’s idea was that the soul is not physical and is separate to the body which counter argues why you can’t find the soul in your body physically. This shows that my teacher isn’t a robot because if she was then she wouldn’t have a soul and therefore would not have emotions or her own opinion on ideas.

In conclusion, after weighing up all the ideas of each scholar on both sides of the argument, I believe that my teacher is not a robot. This is because I believe that like Plato and Descartes said, we have to have a soul and mind to be human and that soul and mind are separate to the body and are not physical meaning that a robot teacher could not trick us into thinking it was a human as it wouldn’t have a soul or mind to pass the Turing Test and fall us all into thinking she was a human teacher and as we can’t put them into a robot, she cannot be a robot.