Can Artificial Intelligence Be Conscious?

Video Recording:  Here

On November 23rd, I had the opportunity to host a discussion with John Searle at Google’s Headquarters in Mountain View (see the video recording here). The discussion focused on the philosophy of mind and the potential for consciousness in artificial intelligence.

As a brief introduction, John Searle is the Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. He is widely noted for his contributions to the philosophy of language, philosophy of mind and social philosophy. Searle has received the Jean Nicod Prize, the National Humanities Medal, and the Mind & Brain Prize for his work. Among his notable concepts is the “Chinese room” argument against “strong” artificial intelligence.

Of special note, there is a question from Ray Kurzweil to John @38:51.

This Talk was presented for Google’s Singularity Network.


The Relevance of a Singleton in Managing Existential Risk

The idea of a ‘Singleton’, a universal decision-making agency that maintains world order at the highest level, offers a functional means for discussing the implications of global coordination, especially as they relate to existential risk. In his 2005 essay, Nick Bostrom both introduces the term and provides elaboration regarding possible examples of a Singleton, the ways one could arise, and its ability to manage global catastrophes.

Bostrom notes that a Singleton may come into being in various forms, including, but not limited to, a worldwide democratic republic, a worldwide dictatorship, or an omnipotent superintelligent machine; the final of these is the least intuitive (and certainly the most closely tied to science fiction), but does, in certain forms, meet Bostrom’s Singleton definition requirements.

One may note common characteristics between all forms of a Singleton. Its necessary powers include (1) the ability to prevent any threats (internal or external) to its own supremacy, and (2) the ability to exert control over the major features of its domain. The creation of a Singleton in ‘traditional government’ form may emerge if seen necessary to curtail potentially catastrophic events. Historically, the two most ambitious efforts to create a world government have grown directly out of crisis (League of Nations, United Nations); future increased power and ubiquity of military potential (e.g. nuclear, nanobot, A.I. capabilities) may help rapidly develop support for a globally coordinated government. The creation of a Singleton in superintelligent machine form may arise if a machine becomes powerful enough that no other entity could threaten its existence (possible through an uploaded consciousness or the ability to easily self-replicate), and if it holds universal monitoring/ security/ cryptography technologies (plausible given the rapidly increasing volume of internet-connected devices).

Although not without disadvantages (touched on further in the paper), the creation of a Singleton would offer a method for management of existential risk. See Bostrom’s full discussion on the merits of a Singleton here!

Orthogonality & Instrumental Convergence in Advanced Artificial Agents (Bostrom)

In his review of the theoretical superintelligent will, Nick Bostrom, Director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford, applies a framework for analyzing the relationship between intelligence and motivation in artificial agents, and posits an intermediary goal system that any artificially intelligent system would almost certainly pursue.

Specifically, Bostrom notes the orthogonality of intelligence (here described as the capacity for instrumental reasoning) & motivation, and hence reasons that any level of intelligence could be combined with any motivation/ final goal; in this way, the two may be thought of axes along which possible agents can freely vary. This idea, often concealed by human bias towards the anthropomorphization of non-sensitive systems, implies that superintelligent systems may be motivated to strive towards simple goals (such as counting grains of sand), those that are impossibly complex (such as simulating the entire universe), or anything in-between. They, however, would not inherently be motivated to focus on human final goals, such as the ability to reproduce or the protection of offspring. High intelligence does not necessitate human motivations.

Bostrom ties this notion of orthogonality with the concept of instrumental convergence, noting that while artificially intelligent agents may have an infinite range of possible final goals, there are some instrumental (intermediate) goals that nearly any artificial agent will be motivated to pursue, because they are necessary for reaching almost any possible final goal. Examples of instrumental goals include cognitive enhancement and goal-content integrity. To the former, nearly all agents would seek improvement in rationality and intelligence, as this will improve an agent’s decision-making and make the agent more likely to achieve its final goal. To the latter, all agents have a present instrumental reason to prevent alteration of its final goal, because it is more likely to realize this goal if it still values it in the future.

Bostrom synthesizes the two theories by warning that a superintelligent agent will not necessarily value human welfare, or acting morally, if it interferes with instrumental goals necessary for achieving its final goal.

See his full discussion here!

The Subtlety of Boredom in Artificially Intelligent Systems

Complex Novelty, the ability to identify when an activity is teaching you insight (and is therefore not ‘boring’), poses a challenging theoretical question to those seeking to create an artificially intelligent system. The topic, one that ties closely with the notions of both ‘friendly’ AI & finite optimization, provides a theoretical method for avoiding a tiling the world with paperclips-type scenario. The identification and understanding of complex novelty offers a pathway for AI to self-limit a given optimization process, to self-identify new goals, and to generally avoid extreme optimization towards goals completely alien to those of humans (see: orthogonality thesis).

Eliezer Yudkowsky, founder of the rationality-focused community LessWrong, seeks to discuss the complexity of the issue + its powerful implications for intelligent beings.
See his full discussion here!