On Oct. 24, The Future of Being Human Initiative hosted "Do AIs dream of electric people?" a conversation delving into the potential consciousness of artificial intelligence. The recent seminar addressed how to bring AI closer to the experience of being human – and to experts in the field, the key is emulating the human senses.
Even though a little over half of the United States population believes that machines and artificial intelligence will soon play a role in assisting us with tasks such as caring for children and the elderly, those who work in the industry say much more work is required before this is fully implemented.
Andrew Maynard is a professor at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the founder of the Future for Being Human Initiative. While he said the idea of conscious AI is currently speculative, the potential is expansive.
"I’ve worked at the cutting edge of emerging technologies for decades now," Maynard said. "This is one of the first times where I truly can’t even begin to predict where things will go."
He elaborated that for artificial intelligence to have full autonomy, it must be able to experience the world in a similar way to humans.
"For fully human-like intelligence, AI has to be able to experience the physical world," Maynard said. "So it’s got to be able to see it. It’s got to be able to hear it. It’s got to be able to have sort of physical hands that touch and experience things. And that’s only going to be possible if you have an embodied AI."
Mark Daley is the current chief AI officer at Western University in Ontario, and while he believes that humans will be able to develop a form of conscious artificial intelligence, he also believes that properly defining consciousness is easier said than done.
"It seems likely that in the long run, we do develop something resembling consciousness," Daley said. "Of course, we don’t have any good scientific definitions of consciousness. We don’t have good scientific definitions of life. So it’s a really fraught endeavor."
Another major issue with potentially giving artificial intelligence a consciousness is that now it can be taken away, or manipulated for other purposes.
"The other problem is if it is conscious, and you say ‘Oh well, it’s just a machine, so it can’t actually suffer, it is suffering. That’s also terrible," Daley said.
In order to experience the physical world, the AI would need a body to do so; however, the technology for these bodies is moving at a much slower pace than the software itself. Before the moral issue of human-like AI is encountered, the speed of robotics development will be an issue first.
Blake Richards is an associate professor of computer science, neurology and neuroscience at McGill University in Montreal. He doesn’t believe that artificial intelligence with mobile robotic bodies will be fully possible during our lifetimes because of the difference in development speeds.
"I think it’s worth noting that the development of robotics is going much more slowly than the development of AI," Richards said. "When you’re talking about this stuff, you have to separate these two aspects of the research. And I don’t think we will see robots with anywhere near the level of physical sophistication as the human body within our lifetimes."
Despite challenges facing the field, the popularization of AI and its potential usefulness lead to continued discussions about the technology and its wide potential.
Edited by River Graziano, Sadie Buggle and Caera Learmonth.
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Hunter Rhea is a writer who grew up in Indianapolis but has also lived in New Orleans as well as Ohio. He is a Technological Leadership major who is currently studying space and interplanetary technology. After graduation, he plans on starting his own studio designing games and devloping new types of technology.