N. J. Enfield (What to think about machines that think)

Sud Alogu
2 min readSep 24, 2023

N. J. Enfield discusses the fundamental difference between human thinking and machine thinking, emphasizing the social and emotional aspects of human cognition. Here are the key points he makes:

1. Machine Thinking: Enfield describes machine thinking as a process of input, calculation, and output. Machines excel at consistent, exhaustive, and fast calculations, and we rely on them for these capabilities.

2. Emotional and Social Thinking: In contrast to machines, human thinking goes beyond mere calculation. Humans consider the emotional and social consequences of their decisions. They worry about how their choices will affect others, future interactions, and social perceptions.

3. Relationship Building: Enfield highlights that human interaction is deeply rooted in psychology and the ability to form social bonds through shared goals and reasons for action. True cooperation involves the formation of a “corporate person” where individuals act effectively as one, both in success and failure.

4. Machines and Cooperation: He argues that machines comply with instructions but do not cooperate in the same way humans do. True cooperation requires the ability to commit to common reasons for action, shared goals, and mutual stakes in outcomes.

5. Complementary Roles: Enfield concludes by suggesting that machines and humans have complementary roles. Machines excel at brute thinking tasks, while humans bring the social and emotional aspects of thinking and relationship-building to the table.

In summary, Enfield emphasizes the uniqueness of human thinking, which involves social and emotional considerations, and suggests that machines and humans have distinct roles in thinking and problem-solving. Machines are valuable for their computational abilities, while humans excel at forming meaningful relationships and cooperation.

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