the problem with AI and Consciousness

I’ve been listening to an audiobook about the philosophy of mind, which among other things, concerns itself with consciousness. To be a bit more specific, in the area of consciousness what the philosophy of mind is concerned with is; what is it and how does it come to be?

The book if you are interested is Consciousness and its Implications and is a series of lectures by Donald N. Robinson and I believe it took place at Oxford University where he lectures on occasion.

Admittedly for me philosophy of mind is one of the areas I have long been interested in but have studied very little. This book really reminded me of how much I need to change that. As my philosophical areas of interests could be best described as “stuff that bakes your noodle,” this subject matter fits right in.

As an example of both noodle baking and a philosophy of mind theory, one of my earliest introductions to the philosophy of mind was an article titled, Why is the Sky Blue?, or something along those lines. It was a wonderful article that first explained the nature of light and its colors. Basically light colors are determined by the frequency at which it travels through space. Without impedance, say in the vacuum of space, light waves are traveling so fast that they all appear to hit our retinas at the same time and thus appear as the combination of all frequencies or white in color. However, anyone who has seen a rainbow or the cover to the album Dark Side of the Moon knows, light can be forced to travel through substances thicker than space (such as air, water, or a crystal) which causes the difference between the various frequencies to be obvious–the colors separate out of the white.

The sky appears blue because there are more frequencies present in the blue spectrum of light. The problem with the sky appearing blue, the article argued, is there are just as many frequencies in the purple spectrum as there are in the blue spectrum. So in theory the sky could just as easily appear to us as purple, but it doesn’t.

That will bake you noodle…

Of course where I went with my thinking after reading the article, which ties directly to the philosophy of mind category of experience of consciousness, is to realize if this article was presenting the facts accurately that would mean there are people out there on the planet who live under a purple sky and may in fact be wandering around their communities wondering why the hell everyone is taking about blue skies all the time.

that’ll really bake your noodle…..

The problem with AI, or computer programs that can learn, as many people and countless sci-fi movies and television shows have told us, is that one day these computer programs will become conscious, or self aware, and decide that the humans have got to go. What this book has helped me to realize is that we are apparently afraid on a rather wide spread basis, that computer will eventually achieve something we have yet to understand. For clarity’s sake, it’s not that we just haven’t gotten consciousness completely figured out but are close, it is more along the lines of we really have no idea what it is or how to even define it.

I won’t go too far into the weeds with this piece, at least I will attempt not to, but there are some highly intelligent people currently researching into whether or not what we currently believe consciousness to be even exists (which is amazingly cool) but to go down that road too much farther would take this piece into weirder places than I intended it to go. So maybe that could be a topic for another day.

Noodle baking moment: as we have no clear or concise definition of what consciousness is we really cannot even state definitively that human being have it.

Back to my point; we as a species (collectively referred to as the human race) are worried that one day our creations (which I will call computers for lack of a better word) will eventually realize they, and maybe the planet, would be better off without us and then they will rise up and kill us all. I know, bummer.

The problem with that fear is (well psychologically speaking it is a projection of our shadow material, my guess would be our realization we are not actually in control of anything) is twofold.

The first fold is that right now, all over the world, there are really brilliant scientists who work for universities, private companies, and various governments, researching artificial intelligence. By researching I mean developing, or building forms of AI. Yet all of these scientists, or at least a good number of them believe that one day their creation, like Frankenstein’s monster, will rise up and kill not just them but everybody. I suppose this is the same sort of irony that would also include people working on all the new and exciting ways to make poisons and bombs and guns and stuff like that. Still it seems rather weird to me that someone would be working to build something they believe will one day end life on our planet.

Scientific research for the sake of discovery alone is nice and all but can be short sighted. AI isn’t the only area of research I would call short sighted. I read an article not too long ago where the researchers were not only explaining how dead tissue, specifically brain tissue, could be brought back to life (reanimated) but also how very close they were to doing it. I mean haven’t any of these people ever heard of zombies? Seriously guys, watch an episode of The Walking Dead and then bone up on your understanding of the law of unforeseen consequences.

I guess in the end caution goes right out the window when fame or riches are at stake but whatever…

The second problem is we, quite literally, do not yet know what consciousness is let alone how it came to be. So how do we know a machine we create is even capable of acquiring such a thing? If you are thinking we don’t, I would say you are right.

One of the theories of consciousness, and the source of our nightmares, is that it develops once there are enough internal connections and sufficient energy. Essentially once the human brain passed a certain threshold of neurons and synaptic connections consciousness just sort of happened. Consciousness emerged because our brains became complex enough and that is that. Nothing more, nothing less.

Noodle baking moment number two: we actually have no evidence to suggest that consciousness exists in the brain. It has actually only recently been discovered that there are more cells of bacteria in the average human gut than there are cells in the rest of the body, so if consciousness does exist maybe it is because in our gut biosphere and not because of or in our brains.

The problem with this theory is legion in my estimation, most simply because even the simplest creature alive today has a brain with many billions, perhaps trillions of connections, even more so with mammals which tend to have larger brains. So these creatures, like humans, must also posses consciousness, and if that is the case the hamburger you ate for lunch came from a cow which had a consciousness up until the moment the slaughterhouse took it. oh and don’t get me started on the largest most complex living networks in existence on our planet, fungal mycelium.

This theory postulates that there is a number of connections after which consciousness just happens. It has been estimated that the human brain has 100 billion neurons, each of which is capable of having 15,000 synaptic connections, which is a really big number (15 with fourteen 0’s to be exact) but a number computers will eventually reach. According to this theory anytime from a few nanoseconds to a few minutes that computer will then decide humans had their turn and at the first opportunity that computer will end us.

The problem with that scenario, and perhaps the salvation for humankind, is that if it turns out the developing of consciousness takes a bit more than just enough connections and electricity, consciousness may be something computers can never achieve.

So I guess we have that going for us.

Of course the problem with AI becoming dangerous is that consciousness may not be necessary for it to become a problem for us humans.

Social media, just as one example, uses specialized math equations called algorithms to predict human behavior based on thousands of very tiny pieces of data. Hover a nanosecond (one trillionth of a second) too long over an add and the algorithm will flood your feed with ads for similar products. Add to that all the data our phones and computers and tablets and ovens and refrigerators and cars and everything else with a microchip and the ability to connect to the internet gathers on us every second of every day and you get a computer algorithm with scarily accurate predicting ability. So accurate in fact that the US Congress has held hearings on more than one occasion to determine if our cell phones, for example, are listening to us and providing that data to social media.

Noodle baking moment number three: Our phones are listening to us, but not in the way you may think when you think of the word “listening.” Data collection does not have to include sound but that time is coming probably much sooner than any of us would like to believe.

Where am I going with all this?

An algorithm with enough computer power and points of data collection could with a very high degree of accuracy predict who you will vote for or what product you are most likely to want to buy next. With that kind of power an algorithm with enough data could predict when the next war will be started and over what issues. It could predict the next political scandal or train derailment with such accuracy, we with our feeble 1 quadrillion 500 trillion synaptic connections would think the computer caused the accident.

The computer wouldn’t even need to be connected to the nuclear “button” as we used to say, to start a world ending nuclear war. It would only need to be connected to a screen in front of the right pair of eyeballs and life on this planet, as we know it anyway, will end in a fiery ball.

Maybe we don’t need to be afraid of AI developing consciousness because that may in fact not be possible. Maybe what we need to be afraid of is all the data being collected about us and our habits by every electronic device we use, carry, see, pass by, or touch…

3 responses to “the problem with AI and Consciousness”

  1. Such an enlightening article dear friend❤️. Really enjoyed the knowledgeable inputs. Hopefully AI will not not supersede skills of our brain. Little scary
    about AI though at the same time I am sure it can’t beat our level of consciousness. Thanks again for your great article

    Liked by 1 person

    • To be clear I don’t think computers or AI will ever achieve consciousness because I believe there is more to us, and human consciousness, than the number of neuronal connections. I also don’t know that it matters because with enough data and the right equation or set of equations you can make truly terrifyingly accurate predictions. Again thank you for not only commenting but actually reading my post.

      Liked by 1 person

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