Why AI machines will never have living consciousness

An ideal intelligent computer program can modify itself to take actions that maximize its chances of success in performing a task. According to computer scientists Stuart Russell and Peter Norvig, the term “artificial intelligence” applies when a machine mimics “cognitive” functions that humans associate with other human minds, such as “learning” and “solving problems”. Simply put, the computer ceases to be a machine that simply executes instructions based on computer programs. It acquires the ability to recognize, learn and see patterns such as consumer buying behavior as well as analyze and solve problems such as finding the shortest route to the gas pump or the nearest restaurant by itself, without the need to write new programs. . Essentially, the computer system writes extensions to its own original programs that make it more efficient at new tasks as it processes data sent to it as it is used.

Contrast this with process automation, robotic or otherwise, which takes manual tasks that don’t require much learning and simply mechanizes them. It could be as simple as scanning invoices for processing in an accounts payable system. All the programmer has to do is define where fields such as amount due and remit to address appear on the invoice, and then program the system to look for those particular places to find that information. This step then becomes automated and removes the need for a manual keyboard operator to enter this information into the system, thereby displacing those keyboard operators. This type of programming is not AI.

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Most IT services companies selfishly blur the line between process automation and AI. Despite their best efforts at obfuscation, the line is truly clear. Automation simply mechanizes routine tasks. But in AI, the computer program itself learns as it goes, building a database of information that it then uses rules of thumb to analyze. In a vital twist that has been happening in machine learning over the past few months, these databases themselves generate additional computer programming code as they learn more, without the need for an army. computer programmers. In AI parlance, this is now often referred to as “deep learning”.

As AI becomes more capable, it is simply no longer considered “smart”. For example, the multilingual work that I used to do more than two decades ago is no longer called AI since it is routine now. The same will be true for many programs now considered to be at the cutting edge of AI.

Techproof Me, by A Siddharth Pai.
(Courtesy of Penguin Random House India)

What is beyond doubt, however, is that automation – whether routine or “smart” – will lead to seismic changes in employment, especially in India with its armies of programmers, and just as the industrial revolution of the 1800s in the West. People spinning or weaving cloth lost their jobs after Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1794, as did many buggy-whip makers after Karl Benz invented the automobile as we know it in 1885, and several bank tellers after the invention of the ATM. History – and classical economics – have proven time and time again that a revolution like this simply changes the nature of human labor in the long run (after the excruciatingly painful short-term effects of job displacement wear off). are resolved). Stop suggesting computer programming as a future profession to your children unless you’re sure they’ll be genius scientists.

Simon, Tom McCarthy, and others founded the field of AI on the claim that human intelligence “can be described with such precision that a machine can be designed to simulate it.” This raises questions about the ethics of creating artificial beings with human-like intelligence. It’s not just programmers who will lose jobs to AI, but also pilots, machinists, journalists and others. Elon Musk, himself a big investor in AI, says: “With artificial intelligence, we summon the devil”.

This requires a quick foray into metaphysics to demystify. While tasks, whether or not they require continuous learning, can be automated, one thing a soulless machine can never do is have a living consciousness. Computer programs can learn tricks that involve the application of learning, just as monkeys, dogs, and humans can, but learning is not intelligence. Living consciousness is the key to all true cognition. Explaining “consciousness” is something that every spiritual scripture has tried to address, and the world has no shortage of such scriptures. But for now, we can settle for the simple definition that consciousness is the mere knowing that you are alive.

If you doubt me, just ask yourself who is listening to these words as you read them to yourself. Is it your learning neurons or some other larger field of consciousness where words and thoughts like these come and go and are understood? Then go ahead and ask yourself if you’re going to lose your job to AI and watch your mind (your learning repository database) react. The question and your answer, whether driven by the limbic response of fear or the intelligent reasoning of your database, are perceived by the true living consciousness within you. And unlike learning, it is this awareness that is the root of true cognition. Only sentient beings have it. Even monkeys and dogs are affected by it, although to a lesser degree than we are; a computer program automatically generating lines of code to be more efficient does not.

Excerpted with permission from “Techproof Me, The Art of Mastering Ever-Changing Technology” by A. Siddharth Pai and published by Penguin Random House India. A. Siddharth Pai is co-founder of Siana Capital and venture capital fund manager for deep science and deep technology start-ups that ideally have social impact.

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James G. Williams