Could A.I. be Conscious?

By LTjg KateLawsen

… If Earth was one day old, humans would have existed for about ten minutes. The Industrial Revolution started just two seconds ago. Still, today’s technology is advancing fast. The power of neural nets, which mimic the human brain, doubles every four months. 

The computer that beat Chess-master Kasparov was only good at chess. Today’s computer beats us at multiple games. It manages tasks that require handling known and unknown information: poker was one of the last human resorts as it included dealing with incomplete information and recognizing bluffs. Now the world’s best poker-players are beaten by machines created by man. 

There’s no doubt Artificial Intelligence (AI) is progressing at an exponential level. 

AI is already used to perform medical diagnostics or to give legal advice. It can manage almost anything that requires browsing huge amounts of data and making more sense of it than any human ever could. 

Years back, when I was at the computer museum, there was a machine, a PC, you could chat with. You could ask questions and it would answer them or even ask questions itself. It was like a chat, but at some point you noticed you were only talking to a machine. You recognized patterns and repeated sentences. 

Today’s Google Assistant passes the Turing test easily — named after Alan Turing, a pioneer in computer science, the test determines if a computer has the same thinking structure as a human.

Google can call shops or business partners to make appointments or receive information, while the person called would not notice he or she was talking to a machine. Sure, there is no way yet to meet eye to eye. There is no physical body that provides a realistic, human appearance. But maybe Commander Data isn’t too far in the future?

The mapping of a human brain is very complex. Modern AI learns with feedback-loops. Just the same as the human brain does. But in the end it’s not the number of feedback-loops alone. 

Scientists have been looking for a technique to identify consciousness. One test zapped a patient’s brain with electromagnetic pulses. These induced brief patterns of electric current in their brains. Unpredictable and complex patterns seemed to indicate consciousness. Based on the complexity of these patterns, the team of scientists could identify 36 out of 38 conscious patients. 

While events local to one area of the brain are seen as automated or reflexes, a bit of information or an action becomes conscious when its patterns are shared through the whole brain. Some scientists believe that any complex interconnected mechanism that processes information has some level of consciousness. The greater the complexity, the greater the consciousness. So will AI come to life when it reaches a similar complexity of patterns?

The internet has reached a level of interconnections that is similar to a biological structure. In fact, it might have already reached a level of consciousness — certainly we’ve all experienced that odd sensation that our activities are being monitored when something we looked up yesterday appears in Facebook ads today. Is there a consciousness behind that, saying, ‘I know what you’ve been doing’? Scary thought!

The spectrum of intelligence is rather limitless. If and when AI surpasses the human intellect, AI will change from something that was affecting the world to a minor extent into something that will transform the world to a great degree. 

Today’s AI demonstrates extreme creativity. But when does it cross the line from machine to sentient life form? How will we know what motivates an AI to say: ‘I love you?’ Maybe it was just a creative move to reach a goal or to manipulate the situation based on its programming. Or was that question the result of consciousness? Why does it ask? Will AI even tell us it has become conscious or will it hide the fact to self-protect? Human-AI interaction could switch sides! We might have AI bossing us around, giving us daily tasks. The ultimate test might be if the AI executes a Turing test on us!

Will AI be our last invention? Is there a future for humans? Creating a consciousness can be seen as a god-like act. Humanity might get left behind in the evolution of intelligence. There are no definitive answers yet. But it is said that information is power. So maybe it’s a good idea to erase the surfing history and cookies from your device occasionally.  ~

Sources:
https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing-Test
https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Turing