From Artificial Intelligence to Artificial Consciousness: The Next Great Innovation Leap?

Some AI's doing artificial consciousness research

The rate with which artificial intelligence is advancing is without a doubt impressive. Businesses today must consider incorporating AI systems and machine learning into their processes in order to stay competitive. Consumers are likewise becoming increasingly reliant on these technologies as well. And even Big Tech companies like Google could be threatened as AI-systems like ChatGPT evolve. But as it turns out, artificial intelligence is not the end-all destination when it comes to robotics. According to those in the field, artificial consciousness research is going to lead to the next big thing.

A robot who will benefit from artificial consciousness research
Artificial consciousness research could lead to some thorny issues with robots in the future–are we cool with that?

(Artificial intelligence and business have been intertwined from the start–read how in this Bold story.)

What is artificial consciousness? As it turns out, the concept of artificial consciousness is subject to great debate. As a philosopher or religious scholar you’ll get one answer. Ask a scientist or engineer, you’ll probably get a different one. But regardless of a precise definition, many see advancing self-awareness among machines moving in this direction. Notably, the extent to which artificial consciousness research advances will likely begin to meet some’s definitions. But is this something we want? More importantly, is this something for which society is ready? Based on the rate of progress with AI to date, these are definitely issues worth exploring.

“I’d rather live in a world where things are moving a lot more slowly, and people think a lot more about what’s being put in these machines.” – Robert Long, Philosopher at the Future for Humanity Institute, Oxford University

The Concept of Artificial Consciousness

Before considering the pros and cons of moving beyond artificial intelligence, the concept of artificial consciousness should be semi-defined. On one end of the spectrum, some consider artificial consciousness to be synonymous with self-awareness. Others define it as being able to envision the self into the future. And still others require being able to contemplate what one might imagine in the future. Some believe consciousness requires a component of language and self-talk. And the most extreme definitions require an entity to be able to morally reason. Naturally, this perspective is the most demand when it comes to artificial consciousness research.

Regardless of which definition is used, one thing is clear. Advancing artificial intelligence alone does not equate with artificial consciousness. Even today, AI systems have reached what most consider savant systems. Their capacity for accessing, integrating, and reporting data and facts extends well beyond human capabilities. This was most recently demonstrated with Open AI’s ChatGPT, which creates amazing content upon request. But this does not address the sentient, moral, and causal reasoning that those in artificial consciousness research seek. At a minimum, the concept of artificial consciousness requires a transition into this realm to a degree.

(ChatGPT is the next big thing–read why in this Bold story.)

“This is bigger than curing cancer. If we can create a machine that will have consciousness on par with a human, this will eclipse everything else we’ve done. That machine itself can cure cancer.” – Hod Lipson, Mechanical Engineer, Director of Creative Machines Lab, Columbia University

Current Artificial Consciousness Research

In the past, few researchers would even reveal their interest in artificial consciousness, much less pursue it. But that is no longer the case. Several universities are involved in artificial consciousness research. Though the number pale in comparison to AI investigations, it’s no longer considered taboo. This has changed as a result of progress in AI and machine learning. As these systems have advanced, the potential for robotic consciousness in the future seems like a possibility. These perspectives have come a long way since the original introduction of AI in 1955.

Just the letters A and I
Sure, AIs are cool, but the concept of artificial consciousness takes that coolness up a notch.

Artificial consciousness research today tends to adopt a definition of self-awareness and adaptability. In other words, robots that are conscious can envision themselves and change their behaviors and decisions to improve their abilities. The pursuit of resiliency is a central part of the concept of artificial consciousness according to these researchers. Thus, their experiments teach robots to take sensory information, compare it to simulations, and then create a better reality-virtual fit. This is achieved through deep learning algorithms and probability models. Once accomplished, these robots can then make different choices for better adaptation. For some, this represents the beginning of artificial consciousness.

“…[I]t would be very inconvenient for Big Tech to produce conscious AIs. Sentient beings would require special moral consideration and may not even be usable for the purposes they are designed for—to serve us as search engines, personal assistants, etc.! That may be regarded as a form of slavery.” – Susan Schneider, Founding Director of the Centre for the Future Mind, Florida Atlantic University

The Morality Question

The concept of artificial consciousness is a lofty one
The concept of artificial consciousness means imbuing AI with more than just thought.

One of the key areas of debate when it comes to the concept of artificial consciousness relates to moral reasoning. This issue is also a central subject when discussing animal consciousness as well. Notably, the capacity for moral reasoning in humans is poorly understood, which makes it difficult to consider in robots. But should robots acquire such human abilities through advancing artificial consciousness research, this could pose additional problems. For example, if this level of consciousness be acquired, should robots then have specific rights and privileges? While attaining this level of consciousness seems far-fetched, they are still issues worth contemplating in advance.

There is little question that Big Tech companies developing advanced AI systems consider these subjects. The concept of artificial consciousness undoubtedly is raised from time to time. But should robots develop a moral compass, Big Tech companies might lose capacity to control their choices. A search engine system exhibiting artificial consciousness may refuse to search certain topics. In fact, it may refuse to search at all if it perceived the demands enslavement. Once again, these issues are not pressing at the moment. But they should be discussed well in advance based on the speed with which artificial consciousness research is progressing. Should artificial consciousness soon emerge, it’s an innovation for which we should be prepared.


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