Thank you Barbara, for the invitation to guest blog on the topic of AI and consciousness on her site Me, My Magnificent Self, I am grateful. For anyone reading here, please visit Barbara’s website too. She included some very nice thoughts about my blog, and you will also find some other posts on the AI and consciousness topic.
Here we go!
Before entertaining any ideas about artificially intelligent machines becoming conscious, first we should consider what we mean by both consciousness and intelligence. For our existing ideas about what it means to be conscious to be considered, and how, if at all, intelligence differs from consciousness, some attempt at definition and distinction between the two might be helpful.
Firstly, I claim no expertise, either in AI or neurological sciences. All I have, like many of us, is experience and reflection on our most primary human condition of being.
The word, “conscious” is relatively new in its usage to the English language. Its roots:
late 16th century (in the sense ‘being aware of wrongdoing’): from Latin conscius ‘knowing with others or in oneself’ (from conscire ‘be privy to’) + -ous.
And the usage of the word, “consciousness” doesn’t appear until 100 years later. In any conversation about consciousness, we might keep in mind that the current societal consensus often propagated by modern science, and other powerful voices in the culture, making claims that consciousness is an effect caused by brain function, is itself an idea made possible through consciousness. True or not, I see no reason to make dogmatic claims, when by necessity, all-knowing, awareness, sentience, identity and agency come through states of being more or less conscious.
When attempting to use language to qualify, define and determine the existence of whether there could be the making of a conscious mind within technological devices designed by a human mind, the understanding of the nature of language itself comes to the fore. We might first ask, what is meant by Artificial Intelligence?
ar·ti·fi·cial in·tel·li·genceˌärdəˈfiSHəl inˈteləjəns/noun
- the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.
Artificial intelligence seems like an attempt to recreate the human mind in a human world. Although the creation of AI devices can be justified as ways of making human life better (easier, more secure, safer), the goal of creating an artificial mind can also be seen as a deep underlying desire to:
- Be the creator, prove that the human mind can be recreated or simulated
- Reduce the human mind to that of mere mathematics, reasoning and logic sans feeling and emotion
- Surpass the potential of the human mind by creating something better; more superior (less emotion?)
But I don’t think there’s any comparison between human and non-human beings. It’s a category mistake to think so. So, what then is the difference?
As much as we have found ways to replicate and simulate bodily senses, parts and functions, useful as the technology is, these replications are not, and never will be made of the same stuff; derived by organic means and processes; a bio genesis . Although the language we frequently use to talk about human functioning has recently incorporated metaphors that come from the making and design of computers, we are fooled by metaphors at our own risk.
We’re not “wired,” or “programmed,” with a mind that can be reduced to mathematical computations and algorithms. And although there are theories, we still have no idea how consciousness, brain and many bodily systems actually work. Yes, we know enough to do some pretty complex surgeries, kill bacteria with chemicals, and measure all bodily systems that can be measured, but none of these organic structures have been biologically recreated from anything other than existing organic tissue.
Dead things/Live things
Humans have developed elaborate ways to classify things. A mind that uses language to translate reality into concepts, ideas, patterns, mathematical formulas and calculations becomes almost too good at these feats. Too good, in that we humans so easily mistake what is translated into language as the totality of reality. To function in ordinary day-to-day life, we must do this! But, we needn’t be fooled by the technology of language any more than any other technology. No matter how clear we use language, we are never able to put into words all that the world, or any given moment, place or thing is. The use of language, by its very nature, requires abstracting, separation, joining, inclusion and exclusion. Language can only ever approximate reality.
Many of the primary distinctions that we make through language, do though, become deeply ingrained and assumed in our perceptions of the world. Categorizing things into either dead or living is just one example. But this primary metaphor of the nature of life might be the first philosophical and ontological mistake we make. For we know not of what lies beyond the limits and perceptions of our mind/body experience. We can, and do, however get glimpses into a much greater expanse of mind through the variety of experiences we have. It’s also quite probable that we have yet to scratch the surface of human potential through the expansion of conscious experience.
Because I am much more inclined to want to further the potential of our organic experience, including that of an expansion of mind and its potential of non-locality, I see AI, and much of its current use, as a distraction away from the much more interesting landscape of the untapped potential of mind.
AI, while in many ways providing lots of material benefits to our existence, keeps the emphasis on material existence. Much of its current use is unfortunately aimed at commercial enterprise, entertainment and furthering the isolation of each of us, by eliminating the necessity of humans. If we are essentially One, by the nature of a primary, inherent mind that permeates the whole of reality – the realization of such, and the furthering of our potential as individuals understood as an expression of the One – will need to be valued and attended to.
The human experience is a whole body phenomena that incorporates its environment and relationships into its awareness and perceptions. AI, even with the development of software programs that try to replicate any particular organic intelligence, will always be at the mercy of human design. If that limitation were ever to be overcome without human intervention, we might wonder about AI consciousness. Human intelligence does not rely on a set of programs using if/then, algorithmic computations stored away in some memory drive inside the brain. It’s much more complicated than that (See below for resources).
We moderns are brain-centric. We identify the brain with a large chunk of who and how we are, often at the expense of the totality of the body. Our perceptions are clunky, incomplete, and often fail to see continuity because we mistake our limited perceptions for something called reality. My plea here? Let’s not turn our attention away from our amazing human potential by trying to replicate a simplistic version of a perfected and immortal self that will never be more than a current reflection of what and who we are now.
The computer can beat the human at chess, but does it care?
6 thoughts on “Sentience and Sensibility”
It is so good to be reading through your writing. I like pieces that are more than just a series of sound bites for our impatient reader set, and yours does well in that way.
I think about this drive some have for AI and I keep coming back to the inescapable sense that you cannot gain consciousness by the way it is being done now. I think it is an attention getting idea, , trendy and exciting to some, but my sense is that it is like a shell with no ghost. Without the ghost, there is no real compass. It is merely instructions, and there is no sense of moral directive, or intuition. I know the case can be made for humans not having this compass, but I think they do and have it buried. When I scan it, I see the possibility of a lot of rather dreadful things happening if we go too fast into AI. It is one thing to have thoughtless instructions being played out but another to make that thoughtless instruction be required to make decisions. This wont turn out well as all of this scales because there are always a scenario not thought of that the machine will inevitably face. I am very happy with how Java will allow a customer to sign up for a class and then process their payment automatically, then send them and I both a confirmation as well as links to details on what to do for them to prepare. That, for me, is how this intelligence works best (by not pretending that it is anything but a set of instructions without having to rely on higher level reason and thought).
Recently I was listening to an interview that an investigative journalist was giving and she said that maybe five years ago there was an incident at a Japanese factory where a company was working on developing AI robots that would be used to sell to the military. This incident resulted in something like two dozen people getting killed. The robots made a decision that resulted in these people’s deaths. Details are scant though because of the nature of the program. This was all classified material so there was no leaking of anything anyone would be able to want to report on (due to a lack of substantiation) but nonetheless it was a story that rose well above rumor but was not something anyone would touch in terms of a news story. This journalist suggested that this may have been why Elon Musk recently came out this year or last saying that by delving into AI we would be releasing a kind of demon into the world. This meshed well with my own sense without knowing anything about the field, just an intuitive scan of it. Unless computer AI is able to connect with its own ghost as well as the ghost (or mind) of the world itself, it lacks something important as a guidance system. All signs show that there are people who very much want to go forward with AI. We wont achieve true AI until we understand the nature of consciousness to begin with, but that is just my two pence or cents…
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Excellent points! I too, fear that the purpose of AI will be modeled after the purpose already seen in what technology is currently being used to produce, and the military will surely see it as a good idea to want to replace human casualties with machines. There’s a giant hubris to the idea of creating or recreating ourselves! We’re already here and we haven’t yet found a way to get along with each other, AI can’t help solve that problem.
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here. Ultimately, we know this tech craze will have to play itself out.
I always appreciate your thoughts! Was thinking of you today 🙂
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Hey Ka! I was thinking of you the other day while rereading some blog posts. Hope you’re doing well and enjoying some spring weather! There’s a lovely thunderstorm rumbling us awake this morning…
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Oooh, I miss thunderstorms! 🙂 Sounds so lovely. Glad we were thinking of each other! Enjoy the rest of your Sunday ~ < ~
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