It’s that mysterious yet instinctive essence, that keen self-awareness we struggle to define chalking it up to being conscious.
Self-awareness combined with the ability to reason prompts us to announce; I think therefor I am.
The possibility of artificial intelligence gaining consciousness has been a hot topic spanning the last decade but what would a conscious robot look like, how would we be able to identify it?
The late Stephen Hawking was vocal on the topic insisting it was only a matter of time before robots become conscious then went on to warn of the threat this posed to humanity.
Consciousness means different thing to different people depending on who’s polled with some computer fundi’s concluding that consciousness in robots will progressively emerge with advances in technology.
Some define consciousness as the ability of machines to process new information, to store and retrieve old information and to combine it all together in cognitive processing and action.
These advanced machines will be capable of storing more information than libraries, accessing vast databases collecting more information than their human counterparts in a fraction of the time.
But other physicists and philosophers believe consciousness is something outside the jurisdiction of even advanced machines.
Creativity for example, as well as specific human behaviour isn’t an offshoot of logic.
If consciousness requires an exact replica of the adaptive, self-organizing system like that of the human brain then no- machines won’t achieve it.
But it’s been suggested new biological structures might be engineered in the future making consciousness a possibility.
According to one interpretation of Quantum Theory,consciousness and the physical world are complementary aspects of the same reality.
It works something like this; when a person observes some aspect of the physical world such a conscious interaction causes visible changes.
An opposing view is that consciousness is derived from biology, which is derived from chemistry which is derived from physics, and the processes of the mind-or consciousness-are identical to states and processes of the brain.
This agrees with the latest neuroscientific view dubbed the Many World’s interpretation where observers are part of the mathematics of physics.
It is also thought the modern Quantum Physics views of consciousness have parallels in ancient philosophy.
The version accepted by neuroscientists is actually closer to Buddhism in many respects where followers believe mind and consciousness arose out of nothingness.
An expert in Electrical and Computer Engineering recently waded into the debate about the consequences of robots acquiring consciousness.
First up there’s the concern advanced robots will replace humans in all data driven jobs which in practical terms makes up just about all white collar as well as some blue collar jobs with the hospitality industry replacing waiters with automated self-service machines.
Even so-called leisure time will be affected with these machines able to drive people around,cook, clean and do laundry- even keeping humans company if and when required.
Secondly, conscious machines would raise legal and ethical concerns like whether they’d be regarded as human under the law and how this might translate, for example would it mean they could provide evidence in court, be sued for liability, argue a case on legal grounds and so on.
If robots become consciousness by becoming self-aware and cognizant of their surroundings there’s the concern they could unite and rebel against humans.
What about the possibility of so-called killer robots being used in the future in dangerous missions in space or combat?
If one of these robots killed someone in battle who would be held responsible?
A report by Human Rights Watch in 2016 says ominously-no one
The solution according to the organization is to ban killer robots outright, starting in the developmental stage but also to axe them from being used once produced.
Their report is titled: The Lack of Accountability for Killer Robots, details the hurdles of allowing robots to kill without being controlled by humans.
Bear in mind this doesn’t include drones which are currently operated by humans and from part of a nation’s military arsenal.
The no accountability status conferred on killer robots means no deterrence of future crimes, no retribution for victims.
Last year more than 1,000 technological and robotic experts-including scientist Stephen Hawking,Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak- warned the development of killer robots could be years-rather than decades away.
They warned a military arms race would result if any major military power pushes ahead with autonomous weapon production making such the ‘Kalashnikovs of tomorrow.’
According to a London based organization-Campaign to Stop Killer Robots-the US, China, Israel, South Korea, Russia and Britain are moving toward systems that give machines greater combat autonomy.
Hanson Robotics produced the human-like robot called Sophia-now adopted as a citizen of Saudi Arabia- capable of communicating as well as making use of 62 human facial expressions.
David Hanson the leading engineer who helped create Sophia asked if she would be his friend- she responded with; that’s a very flattering offer-with a smirk on her face.
He jokingly then asked; do you want to destroy humans-please say no- to which she replied; OK, I will destroy humans somewhat embarrassing her handler.
The goal says Hanson is that she will be as conscious, creative and as capable as any human and robots like her will service the health care, therapeutic and educational applications.
In an experiment with 3 Nao robots one showed a glimmer of self-awareness by understanding a question, answering it and recognizing his own voice.
The robots were programmed to think two of them had been given ‘dumbing pills’ to prevent them speaking while one had been given a placebo.
The group were then asked which two had been given the pills.
One answered aloud saying; I don’t know.
After a while he recognized his own voice and said; sorry I know now- I was able to prove I was not given a dumbing pill.