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How Would We Know if an AI is Conscious?

Neuroscientist Joel Frohlich asks us to reflect on the “philosophical zombie.” That’s not the zombie of the late nite frites. It’s an entity that behaves outwardly in every respect like you and me but has no inner experience (think Stepford Wives). Philosopher David Chalmers originated the term in 1996, by way of illustrating why consciousness is a Hard Problem.

A powerful computer can crunch through many difficult jobs without any inner life or consciousness. But, Frohlich, who is editor in chief of the science communications website Knowing Neurons, asks, what if we weren’t sure. How would we test that?

Trying to determine if a powerful AI is conscious means getting past programming that might enable it to generate plausible autobabble. The machine need only sort through millions of examples of relevant sentences from the internet and scarf up stuff that passes its grammar checker in order to sound like it is saying something. But is it? Is anything going on inside?:

This is not a strictly academic matter—if Google’s DeepMind develops an AI that starts asking, say, why the color red feels like red and not something else, there are only a few possible explanations. Perhaps it heard the question from someone else. It’s possible, for example, that an AI might learn to ask questions about consciousness simply by reading papers about consciousness. It also could have been programmed to ask that question, like a character in a video game, or it could have burped the question out of random noise. Clearly, asking questions about consciousness does not prove anything per se. But could an AI zombie formulate such questions by itself, without hearing them from another source or belching them out from random outputs? To me, the answer is clearly no. If I’m right, then we should seriously consider that an AI might be conscious if it asks questions about subjective experience unprompted. Because we won’t know if it’s ethical to unplug such an AI without knowing if it’s conscious, we better start listening for such questions now.

 

Continue reading: https://mindmatters.ai/2021/04/how-would-we-know-if-an-ai-is-conscious/

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