Part 1 of  this post ended with an important question: “How can we determine whether an intelligent machine has become conscious (self-aware)?” We will address this question in this post, along with some  ethical dilemmas.

We do not have a way yet to determine whether even another human is self-aware. I only know that I am self-aware. I assume that since we share the same physiology, including similar human brains, you are probably self-aware as well. However, even if we discuss various topics, and I conclude that your intelligence is equal to mine, I still cannot prove you are self-aware. Only you know whether you are self-aware.

The problem becomes even more difficult when dealing with an intelligent machine. The gold standard for an intelligent machine’s being equal to the human mind is the Turing test, which I discuss in chapter 5 of my book, The Artificial Intelligence Revolution. (If you are not familiar with the Turing test, a simple Google search will provide numerous sources to learn about it.) As of today no intelligent machine can pass the Turing test unless its interactions are restricted to a specific topic, such as chess. However, even if an intelligent machine does pass the Turing test and exhibits strong AI, how can we be sure it is self-aware? Intelligence may be a necessary condition for self-awareness, but it may not be sufficient. The machine may be able to emulate consciousness to the point that we conclude it must be self-aware, but that does not equal proof.

Even though other tests, such as the ConsScale test, have been proposed to determine machine consciousness, we still come up short. The ConsScale test evaluates the presence of features inspired by biological systems, such as social behavior. It also measures the cognitive development of an intelligent machine. This is based on the assumption that intelligence and consciousness are strongly related. The community of AI researchers, however, does not universally accept the ConsScale test as proof of consciousness. In the final analysis, I believe most AI researchers agree on only two points:

  1. There is no widely accepted empirical definition of consciousness (self-awareness).
  2. A test to determine the presence of consciousness (self-awareness) may be impossible, even if the subject being tested is a human being.

The above two points, however, do not rule out the possibility of intelligent machines becoming conscious and self-aware. They merely make the point that it will be extremely difficult to prove consciousness and self-awareness.

Ray Kurzweil predicts that by 2029 reverse engineering of the human brain will be completed, and nonbiological intelligence will combine the subtlety and pattern-recognition strength of human intelligence with the speed, memory, and knowledge sharing of machine intelligence (The Age of Spiritual Machines, 1999). I interpret this to mean that all aspects of the human brain will be replicated in an intelligent machine, including artificial consciousness. At this point intelligent machines either will become self-aware or emulate self-awareness to the point that they are indistinguishable from their human counterparts.

Self-aware intelligent machines being equivalent to human minds presents humankind with two serious ethical dilemmas.

  1. Should self-aware machines be considered a new life-form?
  2. Should self-aware machines have “machine rights” similar to human rights?

Since a self-aware intelligent machine that is equivalent to a human mind is still a theoretical subject, the ethics addressing the above two questions have not been discussed or developed to any great extent. Kurzweil, however, predicts that self-aware intelligent machines on par with or exceeding the human mind eventually will obtain legal rights by the end of the twenty-first century. Perhaps, he is correct, but I think we need to be extremely careful regarding what legal rights self-aware intelligent machines are granted. If they are given rights on par with humans, we may have situation where the machines become the dominant species on this planet and pose a potential threat to humankind. More about this in upcoming posts.

Source: The Artificial Intelligence Revolution (2014), Louis A. Del Monte