Perhaps the most reliable way to understand how we and our mind work is Artificial Intelligence. It allows us to test our theories by building computer programs to process information in very much the same way as our brains do.
Consciousness is probably the only world a child knows when it is born – the world of seeing, hearing voices, touching, crying, laughing and all the related feelings. It is fundamentally mysterious that science cannot explain consciousness right now, it does not explain the transition from the mechanics of the brain to the genesis of feelings. Consciousness is simply “experience”, to involve something which is essentially subjective. It is a phenomenon that cannot be measured, observed or experienced in public but known only to a first-person perspective. Thomas Nagel, a famous American philosopher published a paper in 1974 titled “What is it Like to Be a Bat?” where he states consciousness has a subjective aspect and understanding of other mental state is difficult or impossible for those not able to experience the mental state.
Today many attempts are being made to engineer consciousness into Artificial Intelligence. Intelligence is about function while consciousness is about being. We would certainly have Operating Systems that would talk back to us with a certain poise, remember every email we ever had like Samantha in the movie HER but do we have answer to what does it feel like to be Samantha? We are talking about mixing two different concepts – concept of natural or artificial intelligence with that of natural or artificial experience.
With the evolution of Deep Learning and neural network, projects like Sophia convince us that humans like robots having awareness of their surroundings and even consciousness is right around the corner. In the context of Artificial Intelligence, we often come across Turing Test , a test to determine whether or not a computer(machine) can think intelligently like a human. AI researchers say that a true Turing Test is one that looks for a system that performs a Turing Test on humans. The artificial mind will start looking for system like itself in the world. This stream of AI that focusses on building machines that emulate the thinking humans do is called “Cognitive AI” and is the source of much of the AI hype. But there are questions being raised on the consequences and morality of creating humanoids and their inclusion in the human society.
AI disasters are depicted in Hollywood movies to further augment the ethical and existential concerns. Cognitive AI sparks the vision of building robots like Ava from the movie ExMachina . Ava is an attractive female humanoid who finds her prince charming in Caleb but in the end manipulates him into helping her escape which is what she really wants. The movie shows the self-awareness that Ava derives is founded on the understandings of what she sees and hears. The quality of the artificial mind is dependent on the data we used to train, validate and test it. Ava’s creator Nathan himself is a vicious character, he wanted to see if Ava could manipulate Caleb using her self-awareness, imagination, sexuality, manipulation and empathy. This makes it obvious that Nathan wouldn’t have given her any other array of data to make a morally ethical choice. The consciousness that AI develops, the intuition it has are based on the experience it goes through. In this context, I would like to quote Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz , an American philosopher and researcher in the field of Neuroscience – “ You are not your brain, you are the story your brain tells itself”.
In my opinion, creating an empathetic relationship between us and sentient machines not bound by biological limits will avoid scenarios like Terminator and Ava. Our mind is after-all not confined to brain but it rather emerges in the feedback loops between our brains and our surroundings. Our minds share universally distributed intelligence, for instance our smart phones are already becoming a part of our memory. Earlier I used to memorize phone numbers but I no longer do now, my phone has freed up that brain space for something else. We are already living a hybrid of biological and non-biological intelligence but when it comes to Cognitive AI’s humanoids like Ava we assume that we are separate from them. AI is not dangerous in itself unless we are shelled in the realm of science-fiction movies. So let’s not fear for the Singularity is near.