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Many traditional philosophical questions take new twists in the context of intelligent machines. For example: What is a mind? What is consciousness? Where do we draw the line on responsibility for actions when dealing with robots, computers, programming? Do human beings occupy a privileged place in the universe?
This article was written, edited and designed on laptop computers. Such foldable, transportable devices would have astounded computer scientists just a few decades ago, and seemed like sheer magic before that. The machines contain billions of tiny computing elements, running millions of lines of software instructions, collectively written by countless people across the globe. You click or tap or type or speak, and the result seamlessly appears on the screen. Computers were once so large they filled rooms. Now they're everywhere and invisible, embedded in watches, car engines, cameras, televisions and toys. They manage electrical grids, analyze scientific data and predict the weather. The modern world would be impossible without them. Scientists aim to make computers faster and programs more intelligent, while deploying technology in an ethical manner. Their efforts build on more than a century of innovation. In 1833, English mathematician Charles Babbage conceived a programmable machine that presaged today's computing architecture, featuring a "store" for holding numbers, a "mill" for operating on them, an instruction reader and a printer. This Analytical Engine also had logical functions like branching (if X, then Y).