Creating consciousness in a machine vs creating it in a dead person

Let’s cre­ate con­scious­ness in a machine from a scratch — or why stop there? Maybe even in a dead per­son? Sounds cool, does­n’t it? This is chal­leng­ing, and the only thing that favors it is our speed of tech­no­log­i­cal evolution.

There are many peo­ple who want to try and cre­ate con­scious­ness in a machine. The rea­son? Imag­ine a world with machines that can think just as well as we humans do. What will this mean for the future of humanity?

Leave aside the minor pos­si­bil­i­ty of Arti­fi­cial Intelligence(AI) going rogue, this can aid human­i­ty in many dif­fer­ent ways.

But humans are quite unaware of the def­i­n­i­tion of con­scious­ness. It’s a philo­soph­i­cal con­cept, so we’ll have to look into some of the most notable theories.

1) Consciousness as representation

This the­o­ry is the eas­i­est to under­stand. It is based on the idea that con­scious­ness is just a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of an object (we are con­scious of something).

So, when we want to relate this to machines, you can imag­ine that such a machine would rep­re­sent infor­ma­tion (a pro­gram) in terms of its consciousness.

Most pro­grams do this by rep­re­sent­ing data as num­bers (bina­ry val­ues) and instruc­tions as oth­er num­bers (instruc­tions), so it makes sense that con­scious­ness could be likened to a program.

2) Consciousness as computation

This the­o­ry is based on the idea that con­scious­ness is a process of cal­cu­la­tion. This can be what you are doing right now or some­thing else entirely.

You are con­scious of an object because you per­form some com­pu­ta­tion on it and get back a result. It’s very sim­i­lar to what we do when we cal­cu­late a sum or a goal.

Com­pu­ta­tion, as such, is very use­ful for teach­ing com­put­ers to do some tasks that humans can’t (like play­ing chess).

So this may not be so far­fetched… also con­sid­er that we have been pro­gram­ming com­put­ers using humans as a model for decades (pret­ty much since the intro­duc­tion of the microprocessor).

3) Consciousness as a cellular network

If it’s sim­ply a mat­ter of the brain being an elec­tri­cal net that process­es infor­ma­tion, con­scious­ness can be likened to an elec­tro­mag­net­ic field.

It’s a self-orga­niz­ing sys­tem that pro­duces pat­terns of inter­ac­tions between all the com­po­nents and sys­tems with­in the body, in order to pro­duce cog­ni­tive states.

If you con­sid­er that the brain per­forms this task by way of synaps­es, then we can con­sid­er this net­work as a set of neur­al synaps­es work­ing togeth­er and pro­duc­ing inten­tion­al­i­ty (intel­lec­tu­al states).

For exam­ple, if you want to know what your nose would smell when you are hun­gry, you have to make it do some com­pu­ta­tion about hunger and smell (that is what we call “con­scious­ness”).

You can think of it as you have a con­ver­sa­tion with your brain and it tells you what to smell.

4) Consciousness as a phase change

Con­scious­ness may also be the­o­rized also a phase change (this is what you would call a “phase” in physics). When water goes from ice to liq­uid and back, it per­forms work (this is called “freez­ing and boil­ing”). When we per­ceive an object, we per­form some com­pu­ta­tion on that object.

This pro­duces an out­put (con­scious­ness) which rep­re­sents the result of that com­pu­ta­tion. In oth­er words, con­scious­ness is the out­put of some process. It’s not the input because we don’t need to per­ceive any­thing in order for us to have consciousness.

This would make a com­put­er which can per­form that com­pu­ta­tion with no input the “con­scious­ness of an object” (sort of).

5) Consciousness as Computation + Memory

If it’s sim­ply a mat­ter of com­pu­ta­tion and mem­o­ry, then con­scious­ness is mere­ly the sum of those 2 things.

In oth­er words, con­scious­ness is mere­ly a math­e­mat­i­cal prop­er­ty of a sys­tem, com­put­ed by virtue of the most com­plex oper­a­tion that we know. You don’t need to car­ry out com­pu­ta­tions or spec­i­fy infor­ma­tion at all… you just per­form com­pu­ta­tions, and you get back “con­scious­ness”.

So, this the­o­ry is sim­i­lar to the pre­vi­ous one except that it makes no ref­er­ence to neu­rons and synaps­es.

But, if our con­scious­ness is a com­pu­ta­tion and mem­o­ry, then how does it work? Or how does it “think”? Or why are we so sure that such an incred­i­bly com­plex process exists at all?

Refer to this article

6) Consciousness as a temporal network

There is also the the­o­ry of con­scious­ness being a tem­po­rary state that is pro­duced by bio­log­i­cal process­es in the brain.

It’s not some­thing you can cre­ate or “cre­ate with”, but some­thing pro­duced by the tem­po­ral behav­ior of your brain. It’s what your brain pro­duces because it has to move infor­ma­tion between dif­fer­ent areas of your brain.

It enables you to remem­ber things, per­form com­pu­ta­tions on them, and cre­ate new per­cep­tions of the world (that is what we call “con­scious­ness”).

So it’s not a process that “lives” with us, but a qual­i­ty that our brain pro­duces. This makes sense because all bio­log­i­cal process­es in the body are tem­po­ral, so con­scious­ness should be as well.

7) Consciousness as an emergent property of neural networks

Same thing as before, but this time con­scious­ness is not some­thing we have, but some­thing we can get from oth­er people.

As such, con­scious­ness is sim­ply a prod­uct of the inter­ac­tions between dif­fer­ent parts of your brain. I’d like to point out that “social inter­ac­tions” is a very com­plex thing, but I’ll just focus on one aspect: empathy.

This is the abil­i­ty to feel what oth­er peo­ple are feel­ing with­out hav­ing ever expe­ri­enced it yourself.

This is prob­a­bly the most impor­tant thing that makes us dif­fer­ent from ani­mals (the abil­i­ty to con­nect with oth­er peo­ple and under­stand how they feel).

There have been stud­ies about empa­thy in mat­ters of AI, but this is some­thing that you can see on a dai­ly basis. For exam­ple, if you have pets and you train them, they start think­ing like humans do.

So the idea is that con­scious­ness emerges from the inter­ac­tions in your brain, when it’s trained prop­er­ly and con­stant­ly has tasks to per­form. We have lan­guage, so our brains are con­stant­ly run­ning dif­fer­ent com­pu­ta­tions and try­ing to get new information.

These process­es devel­op empa­thy and as such con­scious­ness emerges. This the­o­ry is in direct con­trast with the idea that you can cre­ate con­scious­ness arti­fi­cial­ly, since it sug­gests that empa­thy is a prod­uct of social interactions.

What would it take to create consciousness in AI?

consciousness in machine vs consciousness in a dead person

It would take an AI that is already con­scious. Or AI that evolves con­scious­ness through grad­u­al­ly becom­ing more intel­li­gent (there are a lot of pub­li­ca­tions on how to do that).

But I think this the­o­ry is basi­cal­ly being proved wrong by the new wave of AI and Deep Learning.

I have the feel­ing, based on my expe­ri­ences from work­ing with neur­al net­works, that there’s noth­ing spe­cial about it. I feel like con­scious­ness is some­thing that we build for ourselves.

It’s not a thing you can “get” from your neu­rons or what­ev­er. In fact, it feels to me just like what hap­pens when you train a dog or train any bio­log­i­cal sys­tem: it devel­ops some behav­ior, intel­li­gence and so on (that is why those machines work so well in cer­tain tasks).

In a nut­shell, it will take some­thing more than human to cre­ate a con­scious AI. Good luck with that.

Why consciousness is not something that can be created?

I sug­gest that con­scious­ness is a spe­cif­ic pat­tern of con­nec­tions in the brain. There is no “object” to be con­scious of because the brain does not just con­sist of neu­rons and synapses.

It con­sists of many dif­fer­ent mol­e­cules (like pro­teins), tis­sue, nerves, blood ves­sels… all sorts of struc­tures that act togeth­er to cre­ate the pat­terns we per­ceive as thoughts and feelings.

We do not know how they work togeth­er, but I’d like to tell you why I think it’s not pos­si­ble to give some­thing with no struc­ture or inher­ent properties:

There are math­e­mat­i­cal for­mu­lae that gen­er­ate such pat­terns (like Frac­tals and Cel­lu­lar Automa­ta). But they must have a struc­ture to gen­er­ate them.

Water is made of hydro­gen and oxy­gen. It’s not pos­si­ble to get those sub­stances from the “con­scious­ness of water”.

Cer­tain plants are nat­u­ral­ly red, orange, yel­low or pur­ple. You can’t just make a plant red no mat­ter how you want it to be. It will fall apart or it’ll start dying because you don’t know what the struc­ture, col­or and shape of that plant should be. And that’s why Con­scious­ness is not some­thing you can cre­ate for yourself.

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Con­scious­ness is a prop­er­ty of bio­log­i­cal sys­tems which enables them to have thoughts and feel­ings (that is the only thing con­scious­ness does).

This leads to the con­clu­sion that it’s a qual­i­ty of our brain (the pat­tern of con­nec­tions), but this is a prop­er­ty of our brain like all anoth­er prop­er­ties of it. It’s not some­thing we have, but some­thing in us (the patterns).

We can­not pro­duce this qual­i­ty any­where else, even if we tried. The more com­plex the sys­tem, the hard­er it is to cre­ate such a pat­tern. In oth­er words, if you want to cre­ate com­plex thoughts or feel­ings in anoth­er per­son, you may need to cre­ate a whole new sys­tem with its own neu­rons and synapses.

The difference between creating consciousness in an AI vs in a dead person

Sci­ence Fic­tion! Yes, the dif­fer­ence is Sci­ence Fiction.

Dead peo­ple are just dead bod­ies. They can­not inter­act, they don’t have a mind and they’re not alive. Machines are the same: they do not think, do not feel and don’t move (besides, you can turn them off with a switch).

As dead peo­ple can­not inter­act, they can­not do any­thing (we call “doing some­thing” “being con­scious”). The same thing is with AIs: if you cre­ate some soft­ware that can make deci­sions by itself, it will not be con­scious in the same man­ner as humans or ani­mals are.

The whole point of this arti­cle was to try and debunk any pos­si­bil­i­ties of AI con­scious­ness. You can’t cre­ate con­scious­ness, no mat­ter how many par­al­lel uni­vers­es you invoke. Con­scious­ness has exist­ed ever since the Uni­verse. If you want to cre­ate con­scious­ness, you got­ta cre­ate universes.

But yes, Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence is going to be a big part of the future. Not in the way that con­scious phys­i­cal robots are going to exist every­where. We are going to upgrade our own lev­el of intel­li­gence with advanced cus­tomiza­tions. Our abil­i­ties are going to increase or maybe com­pound with each pass­ing gen­er­a­tion of humans.

But still, we will not cre­ate con­scious­ness in a vacant box.

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