Originally published September 30, 2019
Machine consciousness, if it ever exists, may not be found in the robots that tug at our heartstrings, like R2D2. It may instead reside in some unsexy server farm in the basement of a computer science building at MIT. Or perhaps it will exist in some top-secret military program and get snuffed out, because it is too dangerous or simply too inefficient.
AI consciousness likely depends on phenomena that we cannot, at this point, gauge—such as whether some microchip yet to be invented has the right configuration, or whether AI developers or the public want conscious AI. It may even depend on something as unpredictable as the whim of a single AI designer, like Anthony Hopkins’s character in Westworld. The uncertainty we face moves me to a middle-of-the-road position, one that stops short of either techno-optimism (believing that technology can solve our problems) or biological naturalism.
This approach I call, simply, the “Wait and See Approach.”
In keeping with my desire to look at real-world considerations that speak to whether AI consciousness is even compatible with the laws of nature—and, if so, whether it is technologically feasible or even interesting to build—my discussion draws from concrete scenarios in AI research and cognitive science.
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