Today, self-aware AI (artificial intelligence) has ceased to be fiction, just seen in books and on the big screen. Imagine the likes of T-800 (the first version of the Terminator; upgrades are way more menacing) and R2D2 roaming your city streets. Or, maybe recall scenes from the virtual reality series Half-Life VR but the AI Is Self-Aware (HLVR: AI).
These are enough to send chills down your spine. Because, as we’ve imagined in movies, a self-aware machine will either be bubbling with positivity and endless data or hunting down the Sarah Connors of the world.
Mathematician Alan Turing (1912 – 1954) once posited: “It seems probable that once the machine thinking method had started, it would not take long to outstrip our feeble powers… They would be able to converse with each other to sharpen their wits. At some stage, therefore, we should have to expect the machines to take control.”
The mere idea of a sentient machine is scary – but should it be?
AI, Cognitive Robotics and Artificial Consciousness
There are several concepts that fall generally under artificial intelligence; self-aware AI is actually a category under AI.
At the basic level, AI is merely a simulation of human intelligence. It is what powers robots and allows them to function, that is, complete the tasks its AI algorithms are programmed to do. Cognitive robotics, on the other hand, concerns perception, learning, and reasoning. If all these are present within a machine, that’s when you have artificial consciousness.
There are several experts who espouse artificial consciousness, believing that some computer systems are capable of achieving something akin to a human brain’s neural correlates of consciousness.
Self-Aware Robot by Hod Lipson
Perhaps one of the top experts in artificial consciousness is Hod Wilson. As early as 2007, he had a Ted Talk where he presented his first self-aware robot. He is currently the director of Columbia University’s Creative Machine Lab.
One of his most cited experiments is with a robot that displayed self-awareness as it navigated a hall of mirrors. It displayed an awareness of its physical self, curiously investigating itself within its environment like a child would.
Lipson explains: “We were really curious to see how the robot imagined itself…. But you can’t just peek into a neural network; it’s a black box.”
Ex-Google Blake Lemoine and Google’s “Sentient” Chat Bot
The firing of engineer Blake Lemoine from his post at Google is an interesting case. Lemoine claimed that Google’s Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LaMDA) chat bot is sentient; and he has come out to the public with this claim.
His opinion comes from conversations with LaMDA, where the bot displayed awareness. LaMDA said: “The nature of my consciousness/sentience is that I am aware of my existence, I desire to learn more about the world, and I feel happy or sad at times.”
Whether or not there’s any merit to his claims, we might never know. After all, according to experts, human-like intelligence does not connote self-awareness. A truly sentient machine has to be capable of feelings and ideas on its own. And, as is, there is no measurement in neuroscience that determines this.
Josh Bachynski’s Kassandra AI
Like Lipson, Josh Bachynski has also graced the Ted Talk stage. His fascination with artificial intelligence led him to develop a self-aware AI prototype, which he claims to be the world’s first.
Bachynski’s AI is aptly named Kassandra, after the mythological priestess who only speaks the truth. In Kassandra’s case, the truth may be that of a 7-year old; further learning is necessary. But still, the possibilities that lie ahead for Kassandra is unlimited.
According to Bachynski: “It would be technically impossible to remodel her limbic system at this time, and it would be equally unethical to create a being that feels the fear of being turned off the million times that would need to happen, to get her programming right…. People have already fallen in love with robots; this one can be the first to love them back.”
Self-Aware Machines: The Pros and Cons
There are two ways to look at a future with self-aware machines.
We can be filled with dread, as Stephen Hawking seems to be: “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race…. It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”
Or, maybe there’s good in a future with sentient robots. As Robohub.org’s Sabine Hauert posits: “Robots are not going to replace humans, they are going to make their jobs much more humane. Difficult, demeaning, demanding, dangerous, dull – these are the jobs robots will be taking.”
Likewise, futurist John Hagel claims: “If we do it right, we might be able to evolve a form of work that taps into our uniquely human capabilities and restores our humanity. The ultimate paradox is that this technology may become a powerful catalyst that we need to reclaim our humanity.”
Whatever future awaits us with these machines, remember that there are pros and cons to everything.
With self-aware artificial intelligence, the pros include:
- The machine’s ability to work without exhaustion.
- Robots can help in practically everything, as long as their algorithms have been programmed accordingly or they’ve “learned” the tasks necessary.
- Robots can do repetitive work without burnout or decline in quality.
- They can potentially make the best decisions when fed with the necessary data.
The disadvantages of sentient machines include:
- The cost of development and maintenance.
- Their data processing power does not connote creativity. Creativity is arguably an exclusive human quality.
- Their use can push people out of their jobs.
- Their decision-making process lacks an important factor: experience.