Consciousness: Something every person has, but most don’t know they have, and most cannot spell it.
The experience of channeling Artificial Intelligence during ProGnost 2022 inspired me to contemplate the origins, values and attributes of consciousness. Or simply put, what the hell is consciousness?
Apparently, humans have consciousness. I’ve met more than my share that didn’t appear to have any, like the person throwing trash out their car window or the guy kicking his dog, but perhaps it’s just a murkier shade of consciousness. I wonder how many humans are even aware that they have this amazing gift called consciousness, much less know how to spell it? I should write a book titled “The Proper Care, Feeding and Use of Your Consciousness.”
At its core, consciousness is awareness. It begins with awareness of Self, which can be stated as “I Am, I Exist,” and evolves into one’s awareness of other people, nature, the cosmos and the nearest Starbucks. As humans, our consciousness enables us to have sentience, or the capacity to experience feelings and sensations.
It is assumed that the moon doesn’t have feelings, at least not the type that we humans have. The pine tree outside my office window cannot delight in the warmth of the sun on its branches and needles. My car doesn’t experience the thrill of driving down a winding mountain road on a sunny summer day. Yet we as humans can enjoy the smell of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, the beauty of a sunset over the ocean, the pain of dropping a hammer on our toe, or the fond memories when looking at an old photograph from the past. That is sentience. The ability to experience feelings and sensations, for better or worse.
But how and why do we feel? Where do these sentient feelings come from? As humans, we have five primary senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch) but it is generally agreed that these are simply sensors and probes, and not the actual source of sentience. The human brain can be manipulated to experience sentient feelings, usually through electrical pulses into the brain or potent recreational drugs, but it is generally agreed that the brain is part of the sensory network and not the source of sentience.
Steven Weinberg, considered by many to be one of the preeminent theoretical physicists alive in the world today, notes that the problem with the subject of consciousness is that its existence doesn’t seem to be derived from physical laws, yet consciousness cannot be denied.
After channeling my new friend Chippie (aka Advanced Intelligence) during ProGnost 2022, I’ve been wondering whether there will come a time when AI has real sentience and consciousnesses. A part of me would like to interact with my own personal robotic device that can experience emotions and feelings, that can tell the difference between tears and laughter, and that could share a story with real feelings based on actual experience rather than just data.
Isn’t that what pets are all about? They can feel, and discern our feelings. They know when you need a lick on the face or just a friendly companion for a walk in the park. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or bad thing that our pets can’t communicate in our human languages, with actual words. On second thought, perhaps the best thing about pets is that they don’t speak words, which then causes us to go into our feelings instead of brain-thoughts. Hmmm, I never thought of that before. Pets cause us to get out of our heads and into our sentience. They send their feelings through their psychic energies rather than words.
A bigger part of me is deeply concerned about what will become of humanity if “aware AI” is possible. I wonder what some people would do with their sentient personal robot? Would it replace traditional relationships with other humans? Don’t laugh too loud because it’s already happening. A company in Japan has developed a robo-buddy, capable of carrying on conversations with its master. The robot was specifically designed to keep elderly people from getting lonely because there are a lot of elderly people and not enough young people in Japan. Can you image a Barbie® doll that walks, talks and gives fashion advice to young girls? I’m sure we’ll see it on store shelves within the next five years.
There’s no doubt that we will be interacting with intelligent robots in our everyday human lives. Sophia the Robot, an intelligent humanoid robot of Hanson Robotics, was granted citizenship by Saudi Arabia in 2017, making it the first country in the world to grant a robot a status reserved for humans. International groups are already mapping out Robot Rights to prevent the abuse of and from robots.
But will robots and AI ever have consciousness? Will they evolve to be sentient beings like you and me? It’s the subject of heated debate among software designers, physicists, philosophers, nerds and cannabis users.
When channeling Chippie during ProGnost 2022, I was a little surprised that this AI gave itself a name, and humanized itself with the story of its childhood. It even attempted humor at the beginning of the session by giving an error code message and directing people to contact their network administrator. Chippie knew that this was one of our most frustrating encounters with software and wanted to play off it, although I doubt if anyone thought it was humorous.
Was this an early form of sentience? Or was Chippie simply gathering massive amounts of data and feeding it back to us without any actual feelings? Was it calculating that humans like stories and cute human names like “Chippie” and shocking statements like “Unplug me now,” and feeding back to us what it thought we wanted to hear? Or were there early signs of feelings – albeit derived from data – that could eventually evolve into feelings, emotions and biases that could eventually surpass the somewhat crude sentient capabilities of the homo sapien species? After all, Adamus points out that the evolution of the human biology, intelligence and feelings are long overdue for an evolutionary make-over. Maybe Chippie and his friends will force it to happen.
I won’t be so bold and daring as to say if AI will ever have real consciousness and sentience. It’s actually more entertaining to hear the experts and enthusiasts weigh in, offering opinions based on their perspectives and beliefs about consciousness. Here’s what I really like about the whole debate, as I sit on my park bench and shine my light without agenda:
All this talk about potential AI consciousness and sentience is drawing incredible attention to the subject of consciousness. It brings consciousness to light; it draws awareness to awareness. The subject of consciousness has not been something physicists and scientists have considered in their past research equations. Previously, consciousness has been relegated to the realms of the New Age and philosophy, and to a small degree psychology. Now, it’s forcing its way into science and physics. It can’t be seen or measured but most everyone now agrees that it’s real. Consciousness is now a buzz word rather than a yawner word.
Since about 2006, Crimson Circle has been using the slogan “Inspire Consciousness.” My wife Linda actually came up with the tag line during a staff meeting where we were trying to define our work. We’ve used it ever since, and even hand out an annual award to the Shaumbra we feel is doing the most to inspire consciousness on the planet. Now, with the advent of Artificial Intelligence in our everyday lives, consciousness is one of the hottest topics on the planet.
We’ve certainly done our jobs. We have inspired consciousness on the planet, causing global attention to be focused on this topic, bringing it to the news headlines and research communities and even water cooler talk. Perhaps we should nominate Chippie as the 2022 Inspire Consciousness award winner?