by Paul Ratner
Robots ready to produce the new Mini Cooper
are pictured during a tour of the BMW's plant at Cowley in Oxford,
central England, on November 18, 2013.
(Photo credit: ANDREW COWIE/AFP/Getty Images)
Recently, a conference on artificial intelligence, tantalizingly
Science or Fiction?", was
hosted by the
Future of Life Institute, which
works to promote "optimistic visions of the future".
The conference offered a range of opinions on the subject from a
variety of experts, including,
Elon Musk of
Tesla Motors and SpaceX
Demis Hassabis of
and author Sam Harris
cognitive scientist David Chalmers
...as well as computer
scientists Stuart Russell and Bart Selman.
The discussion was led by
MIT cosmologist Max Tegmark.
The conversation's topics centered on the future benefits and risks
of artificial superintelligence, with everyone generally agreeing
that it's only a matter of time before AI becomes paramount in our
Eventually, AI will
surpass human intelligence, with the ensuing risks and
And Elon Musk, for
one, thinks it's rather pointless to be concerned as
we are already cyborgs, considering
all the technological extensions of ourselves that we depend on a
A worry for Australian philosopher and cognitive scientist
David Chalmers is creating a
world devoid of consciousness.
He sees the discussion of
future superintelligences often presume that eventually AIs will
become conscious. But what if that kind of sci-fi possibility that
we will create completely artificial humans is not going to come to
Instead, we could be
creating a world endowed with artificial intelligence but not actual
David Chalmers speaking.
Future of Life Institute.
Here's how Chalmers describes this vision (starting at 22:27 in
Youtube video below):
"For me, that raising
the possibility of a massive failure mode in the future, the
possibility that we create human or super human level AGI and
we've got a whole world populated by super human level AGIs,
none of whom is conscious.
And that would be a
world, could potentially be a world of great intelligence, no
consciousness no subjective experience at all.
Now, I think many
many people, with a wide variety of views, take the view that
basically subjective experience or consciousness is required in
order to have any meaning or value in your life at all.
So therefore, a world
without consciousness could not possibly a positive outcome.
Maybe it wouldn't be a terribly negative outcome, it would just
be a 0 outcome, and among the worst possible outcomes."
Chalmers is known for his
work on the philosophy of mind and has delved particularly into the
nature of consciousness.
He famously formulated
the idea of a "hard problem of consciousness" which he describes in
his 1995 paper "Facing
up to the problem of consciousness" as the question of,
"why does the feeling
which accompanies awareness of sensory information exist at
His solution to this
issue of an AI-run world without consciousness?
Create a world of AIs
with human-like consciousness:
"I mean, one thing we
ought to at least consider doing there is making, given that we
don't understand consciousness, we don't have a complete theory
of consciousness, maybe we can be most confident about
consciousness when it's similar to the case that we know about
the best, namely human human consciousness...
So, therefore maybe
there is an imperative to create human-like AGI in order that we
can be maximally confident that there is going to be
consciousness," says Chalmers.
(starting at 23:51)
By making it our clear
goal to fully recreate ourselves in all of our human
characteristics, we may be able to avoid a soulless world of
machines becoming our destiny.
A warning and an
objective worth considering while we can.
Yet it sounds from
Chalmers's words that as we don't understand consciousness, perhaps
this is a goal doomed to failure.