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Thursday, November 16, 2023

Minds of machines: The great AI consciousness conundrum

Grace Huckins
MIT Technology Review
Originally published 16 October 23

Here is an excerpt:

At the breakneck pace of AI development, however, things can shift suddenly. For his mathematically minded audience, Chalmers got concrete: the chances of developing any conscious AI in the next 10 years were, he estimated, above one in five.

Not many people dismissed his proposal as ridiculous, Chalmers says: “I mean, I’m sure some people had that reaction, but they weren’t the ones talking to me.” Instead, he spent the next several days in conversation after conversation with AI experts who took the possibilities he’d described very seriously. Some came to Chalmers effervescent with enthusiasm at the concept of conscious machines. Others, though, were horrified at what he had described. If an AI were conscious, they argued—if it could look out at the world from its own personal perspective, not simply processing inputs but also experiencing them—then, perhaps, it could suffer.

AI consciousness isn’t just a devilishly tricky intellectual puzzle; it’s a morally weighty problem with potentially dire consequences. Fail to identify a conscious AI, and you might unintentionally subjugate, or even torture, a being whose interests ought to matter. Mistake an unconscious AI for a conscious one, and you risk compromising human safety and happiness for the sake of an unthinking, unfeeling hunk of silicon and code. Both mistakes are easy to make. “Consciousness poses a unique challenge in our attempts to study it, because it’s hard to define,” says Liad Mudrik, a neuroscientist at Tel Aviv University who has researched consciousness since the early 2000s. “It’s inherently subjective.”

Here is my take.

There is an ongoing debate about whether artificial intelligence can ever become conscious or have subjective experiences like humans. Some argue AI will inevitably become conscious as it advances, while others think consciousness requires biological qualities that AI lacks.

Philosopher David Chalmers has proposed a "hard problem of consciousness" - explaining how physical processes in the brain give rise to subjective experience. This issue remains unresolved.

AI systems today show no signs of being conscious or having experiences. But some argue as AI becomes more sophisticated, we may need to consider whether it could develop some level of consciousness.
Approaches like deep learning and neural networks are fueling major advances in narrow AI, but this type of statistical pattern recognition does not seem sufficient to produce consciousness.

Questions remain about whether artificial consciousness is possible or how we could detect if an AI system were to become conscious. There are also ethical implications regarding the rights of conscious AI.

Overall there is much speculation but no consensus on whether artificial general intelligence could someday become conscious like humans are. The answer awaits theoretical and technological breakthroughs.