What does an AI conscious want? Maybe we don’t know


People are active listeners; we make sense where there is none, or not intended. It doesn’t matter what the octopus says, but actually the islander can understand them, according to Bender.

For all intents and purposes, today’s AIs are intelligent in the same way that a calculator can be said to be intelligent: they are both machines designed to convert input in ways people choose-with thoughts – to be interpreted as meaningful. While neural networks may be free -form models of brains, most of them are much less complex than the mouse brain.

And yet, we know that the brain can do what we understand with consciousness. If we find out later how brains do it, and develop that mechanism into an artificial device, surely an intelligent machine can be made?


As I try to imagine Robert’s world in the opening of this essay, I find myself drawn to the question of what my consciousness means. My conception of a thinking machine is undeniable – perhaps inevitable – as human. It’s the only form of consciousness I can think of, because it’s the only one I’ve experienced. But is that really what an AI -minded person wants?

Maybe it’s hubristic to think about. The project of building an intelligent machine biases human intelligence. But the animal world is full of many possible alternatives, from birds to bees to cephalopods.

A few hundred years ago the accepted view, pushed by René Descartes, was that only man is watching. Animals, without souls, are seen as mindless robots. Few think that now: if we have consciousness, then there is little reason not to believe that mammals, which have the same brain, also have consciousness. And why draw the line around mammals? The birds appeared to demonstrate their solving the puzzles. Most animals, even invertebrates such as shrimp and lobster, show signs of pain being felt, suggesting that they have some degree of dementia consciousness.

But how can we think that feeling is real? As the philosopher Thomas Nagel said, it is absolutely necessary “Be” like something that could be a bat, but what that is we can’t imagine – because we can’t imagine what it would be like to see the world through a kind of sonar. We can imagine what it could be WE to do this (perhaps by closing our eyes and photographing a kind of ecolocation point cloud around us), but that’s not what it should be for a bat, with this bat in mind.



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