Is A.I. consciousness useful?

One of the scenarios for and AI achieving the illusion of consciousness is with a high speed multilayered neural network.  These are often laid out as row after row of neurons (really only 4, 5 or 6 rows since the computing complexity becomes extremely daunting) and “trained” on some input.  For instance, linking each dendrite to a pixel on the screen and reward or punish recognition of five pointed stars.  With increasing complexity, it is possible to build an entire artificial nervous system this way.

Now consciousness isn’t something we can well train for.  How do you train for something that we have but the faintest glimmering of what it is?  Does an AI even require consciousness to have intelligence?

Say we train the simple network to recognize the 5 pointed star.  If we dissect the network; maybe we can decipher it a bit to see a visualization of what it is able to recognize.  Do we have an understanding of what it means for the network to “visualize” it?  Is that what it is doing?  What is the program?  What is the algorithm for that?  How can we understand the semantics of the trained dendrites?   All we’ve done is encoded the data so that we “see” what the network has calculated as a recognized pattern.

Now what about something as complex as consciousness?  As syntax and semantics? As fear or love?  If the AI had all of those, could we decode it?  Could we understand it?

What is the point of building a conscious being if we still do not understand what it means to be conscious?  What can we learn?  Could we build one smart enough to tell us what it means and answer our fundamental questions that drive humanity to discover and search?

I think we will in fact learn quite a bit though sceptics will continue to  scoff since it is a mere machine.  Finding out how someone else thinks is delightful and educational.  A completely alien mind would offer new avenues for inquiry.  But it would, like everything else we discover, only lead to more questions.

Computer Lab

My second computer job was working for The United Way as their Computer Instructor for disadvantaged children.  The program I was helping with gathered children at The Learning Center after school and the employees and volunteers helped children with their homework.  If they were successful they could do arts and crafts or the computer room where I would administer educational software. If they were particularly good and completed the assigned lessons I would let them play computer games.  We had a fairly new set of 3 Commodore 64 machines some with floppies and one with a tape drive input and cartridges.

The children had to go through a screening process to determine need and any potential behaviour problems.   This job was one of three part time jobs I had at just above minimum wage and I understood poverty pretty well.  But even though we were well matched in income we were not matched in class.  I had many advantages they didn’t, not the least of which was being the right sex and color.  I had lots of encouragement.  All my family, all my friends, all the people in my church and people I met in the grocery or buying gas;  all the authorities, teachers and coworkers thought if I wanted to do better I would and didn’t write me off.

The people I was helping were on the wrong side of town, sequestered in low rent housing and relegated to only a few activities that they had time to participate in and even less money to work with.  Any disruption to their lives like a medical problem, a layoff or the betrayal of a loved one would send them sinking even lower.   It is *very* hard to crawl out of that and be successful and many don’t make it.  Many are not encouraged and even the institution I was working for might exclude them if they didn’t have the resources to be sure their children and their own commitments could make it through the screening process.

Not everyone is an entrepreneur.  Janitorial duty is not romanticized in books and theatre.  Nanny work is often just written about in passing to show the wealth of an employer or as a foil in an illicit affair.  Basic clerical duty is very difficult but there are few heroes.  Being a chef is finally getting some respect but I was always told to go to college to avoid working in fast food.  Now if I got laid off I’d be asked why I feel like I’m too good to work fast food.

There area  lot of people in poverty.  Many of them children.  Helping them is not trapping them in a cycle of poverty.  It’s simply helping them.  If the government does it that doesn’t somehow taint it and delivers an effective method to allow everyone to contribute including the very wealthy.  If we’re going to break the cycle of poverty, we have to break through the barriers that separate us by class.

Work from home

Now that we always have a business class computing device on our person, work is expected even during natural disasters or sickness.  You can’t simple call in “sick” or call in “earthquake”.  If you have battery power left you have to qualify it as “too sick to actually work” rather than too sick to come spread disease at the office.

We can never escape work.  We keep up with work regularly just to be sure everything is going well in our absence.  When working for a global company, we can check in and though not rewarded we “check in” to be sure questions are answered and all stays on track.

Well, “not rewarded” may be too strong.  We are not punished by a deluge of email if we maintain regular communication.

Computers and Doom

Computers were invented a century ago and scientists and fiction writers seemed immediately to understand their limitations and their power.  And yet, their optimism was boundless and the advances were expected to come much sooner than they have.   The advances that did come have been applied in unexpected and peculiar ways and the optimism is still there but only seems to apply to what we now regard as convention.

This is a revolt against convention.  Computers are useful tools and they will doom us to reject the spiritual for the material and leave narcissism in its wake.  There is much that can be done to retain our humanity without descending into Luddism and technology offers us many gifts besides tin foil helmets.

I want to explore the nature of mind, the value of computers and the hopes and dreams of people.  And I expect to have fun!