Emergent Artificial Consciousness

As I write, some of the best engineers and scientists in the world are working on making the computer a faster, smarter, more reliable machine. They work incrementally making small steady improvements on their own designs on a regular basis. The brain of the computer generally doubles in size and speed every 18 months. I’ve heard some scientists theorize that at some distant point in the future the processors will be so many, so fast and so powerful that they might reach the density and functioning ability of our own neurons. Eventually, the machine could reach a state of self-awareness better known as consciousness. Of course, that would be the absolute highest accomplishment for any computer scientist or for any god.

We have not as yet devised a machine that even seems to act like us. To do that would be an achievement in itself. Just to sit down with a machine and be able to speak to it, and have it answer us, may be all we lonely humans want. While programs like Dragon Naturally Speaking allow us to speak to our computer in order to type, and computers can read typed material, no computer can speak to express itself or to explain an idea.

To build a machine that is able to think for itself and to learn, would be another step forward. Computer scientists have been trying for 20 years or more to get computers to think by developing experimental programs, which we could place under the general heading off ” artificial intelligence”, but I still don’t see any programs that allow a computer to really “learn”.

To build into a machine a conscience would be a great step toward making a computer seem like us. The Army is currently attempting to develop robot warriors with a code of conduct which would allow them to operate safely in a combat environment. I suspect that that code will differ substantially from what Isaac Asimov had in mind when he wrote “I, Robot”.

And finally to build a machine which is able to recognize sights, smells and sound in its environment would be a big step forward, as well. There are currently many different ongoing projects to teach specialized machines to recognize aspects of sight, sound or smell but no single machine can do all three. No project is beyond a computer recognizing very basic elements of sight, sound or smell.

The elemental difference between our mind and the computer brain is that we are analog and it is digital. The computer is merely a tool but there is a temptation to assign human qualities to it. Our brains are huge and were developed to understand and to tell a story. We have pushed storytelling to the limits by using not only words but also numbers, music, pictures, movement and sound represented in a variety of media. There is no end to the ways in which we can tell a story. These stories often serve very practical purposes but, more often, are told to elicit emotion within us. They are the most elemental part of human intellectual functioning.

Computers work best with numbers, and they’re very fast, but, in order to communicate with us,they also need to translate what they do from numbers to a form of information that we can understand. For us to have numbers running across our screen that represent pixel positions would be meaningless. A computer could make sense of it for us by forming that picture.

Emotion is not unique to humans, it is part of the mammal brain. Most mammals feel emotion but scientists are split on whether animal emotion is identical to human emotion. Be that as it may, it is safe to say machines will never feel emotion or dream.

In building computers, it is as if we are lonesome for another being other than ourselves. Since we have not found another in the universe, we have decided to make one of our own. Something that will help us and something to help us not to feel alone.

To create another being is as close to god-like as we will ever get, but will our machines ever think of us as gods or will they become our god? At this point in history we do not seem to appreciate our place in the universe. We can’t get along with each other, we are divided and battling constantly. We are very aggressive and act as though life is cheap. We continue to abuse and exterminate each other day after day, year after year, all around the world. What will we teach our machines?

Writers have speculated that computers will one day become robots, who in turn will be able to design and build more advanced robots without our intervention. By then maybe robots will be biologically based machines. They go on to speculate that, these robots may be the next step in evolution, in that they will replace us in the universe. We may feel threatened by that thought, but, if we play our cards right we could teach those machines to nurture life, rather than to destroy it.

Lately, I’ve done quite a lot of thinking about the human soul, I have been in search of the soul, so to speak. I’ve tried to deduce what it is and where it hides. I’ve tried to use the idea of an evolving computer to pinpoint the soul’s substance and location. Could a machine have a soul? At what point will it emerge? Is the concept of soul merely a human thing, a product of our stories, art, or religion? Or, is the soul all that we are, through space and time and can we impart it to our machines – like gods?