Erich Fromm
On artificial intelligence & psychological determinism

One symptom of the attraction of the merely mechanical is the growing popularity, among some scientists and the public, of the idea that it will be possible to construct computers, which are no different from humans in thinking, feeling, or any other aspect of functioning. 15 The main problem, it seems to me, is not whether such a computer-man can be constructed; it is rather why the idea is becoming so popular in a historical period when nothing seems to be more important than to transform the existing man into a more rational, harmonious, and peace-loving being. One cannot help being suspicious that often the attraction of the computer-man idea is the expression of a flight from life and from humane experience into the mechanical and purely cerebral.

The possibility that we can build robots who are like men belongs, if anywhere, to the future. But the present already shows us men who act like robots. When the majority of men are like robots, then indeed there will be no problem in building robots who are like men. The idea of the manlike computer is a good example of the alternative between the human and the inhuman use of machines. The computer can serve the enhancement of life in many respects. But the idea that it replaces man and life is the manifestation of the pathology of today.

The fascination with the merely mechanical is supplemented by an increasing popularity of conceptions that stress the animal nature of man and the instinctive roots of his emotions or actions. Freud’s was such an instinctive psychology; but the importance of his concept of libido is secondary in comparison with his fundamental discovery of the unconscious process in waking life or in sleep. The most popular recent authors who stress instinctual animal heredity, like Konrad Lorenz (On Aggression) or Desmond Morris (The Naked Ape), have not offered any new or valuable insights into the specific human problem as Freud has done; they satisfy the wish of many to look at themselves as determined by instincts and thus to camouflage their true and bothersome human problems. 16 The dream of many people seems to be to combine the emotions of a primate with a computer-like brain. If this dream could be fulfilled, the problem of human freedom and of responsibility would seem to disappear. Man’s feelings would be determined by his instincts, his reason by the computer; man would not have to give an answer to the questions his existence asks him. Whether one likes the dream or not, its realization is impossible; the naked ape with the computer brain would cease to be human, or rather “he” would not be. 17

15 Dean E. Wooldridge, for instance, in Mechanical Man (New York: McGraw– Hill, 1968), writes that it will be possible to manufacture computers synthetically, which are “completely undistinguishable from human beings produced in the usual manner” [!] (p. 172). Marvin L. Minsky, a great authority on computers, writes in his book Computation (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice–Hall, 1967): “There is no reason to suppose machines have any limitations not shared by man” (p. VII).

SOURCE: Fromm, Erich. The Revolution of Hope: Toward a Humanized Technology (New York; Evanston; London: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1968), pp. 43-44.

NOTE: Fromm discusses the ramifications of cybernetics and computer technology throughout the book.

Socialist Humanism: An International Symposium
edited by Erich Fromm

Erich Fromm on disobedience in Eden
& the emergence of humanity

Erich Fromm pri malobeo en Edeno & la ekesto de la homo
(Esperanto translation by R. Dumain)

Revisiting D. T. Suzuki:
Selective reading, memory, & embarrassment

by R. Dumain

Cybernetics & Artificial Intelligence: Ideology Critique

Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), 1920-2021
Guide compiled by Ralph Dumain

Secular Humanism—Ideology, Philosophy, Politics, History:
Bibliography in Progress

Theodor W. Adorno & Critical Theory Study Guide


On a Foundational Triad of Plinths
by John W. Ragsdale
(Eco-logos, Vol. 25 (No. 92, 1-2,. 1979), pp. 8-12)
[From the Erich Fromm Document Center]

Internationale Erich-Fromm-Gesellschaft e.V.
(English version)

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