(Artificial) Intelligence is not Possible Without Sensors and Manipulators

It is not possible to have (artificial) intelligence without having sufficiently functional and free mechanisms for sensory input from the surrounding reality and for manipulating it.

The Concept of Intelligence

First of all, I have to do some definition of “intelligence”. I think there are several, and none of them really paramount at the present. The definition of intelligence for this text is the ability to solve problems in new situation.

This definition is what I typically see tested in Turing’s tests. A chatbot can easily be programmed to sustain a discussion in a predefined topic and style. However, when there are unforeseen mistakes in the tester’s formulation of questions (typing errors, for example), a chatbot typically malfunctions, where a real person is normally capable of understanding what the tester really meant to write.

An intelligent door at a shopping mall opens, when a person approaches it, but if the person is of a wrong size, or wearing something that confuses the door sensors, the door can not adapt, unless the designer has foreseen this specific problem and built a solution ready in the system. In summary, the contemporary artificial intelligence is only pseudo-intelligence.

Although the intelligent door has a sensor (to detect the proximity of a person) and a manipulator (motors to open and close the door), it’s cognitive capability is practically nill, and the manipulators can’t directly affect what the sensors are sensing. The door could become truly intelligent, If it would be able to learn from it’s experience, and it would be capable of experimenting with how it’s operation affects the proximity of a person:

  • holding the door closed will keep the person close for an extended period of time, until they get frustrated and leave
  • rapidly opening and closing the door for no reason will eventually attract a person who will cause discomfort through service operations or such
  • opening the door will cause a person to pass and then leave

Locked-in language

I just watched an “8-bit movie” summarising a concept from Derrida.[1] First I understood that Derrida claimed that there is no objective universe, because words are just artificial coincidences with basically no connection to what they are throught to represent in reality. This logic appeared to scream false premises – for example, surely the Sun exist regardless of what we call it. A rose by any other name would still smell the same. Although we can not clearly specify, for example, if the boundaries of the sun are within the “surface” at 700.000 kilometers from it’s centre, or the reach of it’s gravity and extense of the solar flare, the Sun is still universally observable. We can point to the approximate direction of it’s centre. It has effects on it’s surroundings, including the Earth.

I then realised, Derrida’s philosophy works within languages. If I ask a person, what is the sun, I would get an answer along the ways of it being an object in space of certain size and mass that the Earth and several other planets orbit. If I further ask, what is a planet, I might be answered that it is typically a roundish object in space that orbits a star, such as the Sun, for example. For my further query of “what is round”, the person might already start drawing (round) forms in the air with their finger, instead of trying, for example, the mathematical definition of a sphere. Language has restraints. It cannot explain reality alone. To connect language to reality, you need to accompany it with your senses and actions (gestures).

If you take any page on Wikipedia and proceed clicking on the first linked actual word in the description, you end up in “philosophy“. From philosophy, the current loop is: philosophy -> reality -> existence -> consciousness -> quality -> philosophy. Encyclopaedic definitions are circular. Language itself cannot explain reality. It needs to relate to our senses and experiences.


In Graziano’s attention schema theory [2][3], consciousness (awareness) is “the brain’s simplified, schematic model of the complicated, data handling process of attention”. The human brain receives input from the senses and also from the cognitive processes. The mind pays attention to some of this data and processes it into a representation, of which it is also aware, just as well as of the original sensory input. The representation is built of sensory input as well as the results of internal (cognitive) processing. Some of the sensory input is caused by the manipulation of the reality through the body, which has been controlled by the internal processing: The mind has made the hand to throw a ball and now, through the eyes, the ball can be seen flying, in a fashion that is typically consistent with past experiences of similar events.

Derrida’s arguments about language can also be applied to the internal processing of the mind. The mind and a language can process data contained within itself. To be able to create sentience, the mind needs to be injected with sensory input of a concrete reality, and the products of the processes must have effect on this input – the person has to be able to manipulate the observed reality. A feedback loop must exist. The mind is a logical machine that learns easily the causalities between sensory input and manipulated output. When the brain orders the fingers to open, the eyes can perceive the fingers opening, and also the skin of the fingers can feel this happening. This process places us into our own sentience, as can be understood from Graziano’s theory.

Real intelligence from virtual reality

It might be possible to create an artificial intelligence without giving it physical manipulators and sensors. What is needed, is a reality. Virtual reality might suffice, as long as it is objective. The functioning of a (virtual) manipulator must not depend on how the controlling mind perceives the (virtual) reality. Instead, the perception must depend on the reality.

Children need love and boundaries to grow up sane and mature. A child without safe boundaries will grow up schizophrenic, having no contact with the objective reality of their own life. Certainly, the universe will hold it’s own boundaries on any child: They can’t walk through solid walls. They need to breath and eat. Therefore, any child with senses will grow up with the rudimentary sentience and intelligence.

This would seem to suggest that anything that is omnipotent within the whole of it’s own reality, could not be sentient.

Also, most animals are intelligent and sentient – most of them less than humans, but also most of them more than a modern computer.


[1] Wisecrack: “Is A Cat A Cat? (Derrida + Double Dragon) – 8-Bit Philosophy” 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Zw04hraCVo downloaded 13.11.2014

[2] Graziano, Michael S. A.: “Consciousness and the Social Brain”, Oxford University Press, 2013.

[3] Mäntylä, Tomi (bgt): “Awareness of Awareness”, https://tomibgt.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/awareness-of-awareness/ ‎2014

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