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Wednesday, December 16, 2020

If a robot is conscious, is it OK to turn it off? The moral implications of building true AIs

Anand Vaidya
The Conversation
Originally posted 27 Oct 20

Here is an excerpt:

There are two parts to consciousness. First, there’s the what-it’s-like-for-me aspect of an experience, the sensory part of consciousness. Philosophers call this phenomenal consciousness. It’s about how you experience a phenomenon, like smelling a rose or feeling pain.

In contrast, there’s also access consciousness. That’s the ability to report, reason, behave and act in a coordinated and responsive manner to stimuli based on goals. For example, when I pass the soccer ball to my friend making a play on the goal, I am responding to visual stimuli, acting from prior training, and pursuing a goal determined by the rules of the game. I make the pass automatically, without conscious deliberation, in the flow of the game.

Blindsight nicely illustrates the difference between the two types of consciousness. Someone with this neurological condition might report, for example, that they cannot see anything in the left side of their visual field. But if asked to pick up a pen from an array of objects in the left side of their visual field, they can reliably do so. They cannot see the pen, yet they can pick it up when prompted – an example of access consciousness without phenomenal consciousness.

Data is an android. How do these distinctions play out with respect to him?

The Data dilemma

The android Data demonstrates that he is self-aware in that he can monitor whether or not, for example, he is optimally charged or there is internal damage to his robotic arm.

Data is also intelligent in the general sense. He does a lot of distinct things at a high level of mastery. He can fly the Enterprise, take orders from Captain Picard and reason with him about the best path to take.

He can also play poker with his shipmates, cook, discuss topical issues with close friends, fight with enemies on alien planets and engage in various forms of physical labor. Data has access consciousness. He would clearly pass the Turing test.

However, Data most likely lacks phenomenal consciousness - he does not, for example, delight in the scent of roses or experience pain. He embodies a supersized version of blindsight. He’s self-aware and has access consciousness – can grab the pen – but across all his senses he lacks phenomenal consciousness.