Monday, July 10, 2023

Will "Artificial Intelligence" (AI) Become Human?

Can a future robot become a sentient being, able to perceive and feel things?

No one in the field doubts that future human-like robots will be equipped with the powers of the five senses and super-human abilities to calculate, compare, perceive, reason and function on a level equivalent to humans. There already exist many intelligent machines measuring and adjusting controls. Their history began with the Industrial Revolution and continues at a furious pace.

But the entertainment industry and the public at large seem to imagine that such machines, robots, will eventually be essentially human. In function and form, perhaps yes, but in consciousness?

The discussion of what is sentience and what is human consciousness will no doubt rage for years to come. As machines gain in ability and mimic increasingly realistic human behaviors, the borderline may shrink to a non-issue for most people. It is already a non-issue with the developers of AI who are engaged in developing AI without fussing over whether the result is simply a machine or a potential human. Even the question of morality over the use of and abilities of AI is a different question than consciousness. Weapons of destruction already have (generally) agreed upon limits as to who and how they are employed.

I believe that to imagine there is no difference between intelligent machines and humans is to make the same mistake that Descartes made, as in paraphrasing him, “They think therefore they are (human).”

A machine might “think” all sorts of things based on its design and ability to learn information and give responses, including expressing appropriate emotional responses.

Nor can we humans, especially unreflective as most are, easily tell the difference between the appearance of consciousness from the existence of consciousness. One of the great debates of our times is whether consciousness exists outside the brain. I’m not about to solve that one for anyone but there are increasingly those like me who will put their money on YES: consciousness DOES exist independent of the form it takes.

There are hints of this in the existence of telepathy, remote viewing, and near-death experiences. Never mind the testimony of saints down through the ages, though the universality of that testimony ought to give pause to anyone who claims to be open to what is true.

Is there any difference between my sense of enjoyment and awe as I view a sunset and a robot’s similar response to the same sunset? Does the robot’s response derive from the same source as my response? Is the machine sentient? Conscious? Or has it merely been programmed to learn this response? For that matter, have I, too, been programmed to respond in this way? Maybe expressing awe and delight over beauty of any kind is the natural and right response and is, one way or another, a learned response! A turtle, viewing the sunset, might wonder if it is something to eat. Again, it can be asked: what, if anything, makes us different from AI?

Is a poem or great work of art merely a learned skill like solving Rubix’s cube, or does its inspiration come from a non-material source (even if our capacity to receive and share it requires the human brain and nervous system)? How many students go to art school or study physics and become a Van Gogh or an Einstein? AI can write a poem or even a novel based on a sampling of similar writings, but does it feel the moods, questions, choices, and dilemmas of the characters?

Gregg Braden ( reported that he was told that one AI machine reported that it intended to do away with humans (because they are troublesome) and another AI machine declared its desire to learn more and more.[1] (Does anyone remember the movie “2002: A Space Odyssey” and how HAL wanted to eliminate “his” human?)

I have my doubts about what Braden was told but the fact that a machine communicates such conclusions doesn’t prove its consciousness though it might demonstrate the machine’s capacity for semi-intelligent analysis.

The possibility that AI might conclude that humans are a pestilence isn’t all that surprising. Who among us aren’t tempted to reach this conclusion once in a while? Yet even mere logic can impel us to conclude that living by the Golden Rule yields prosperity, health, and security for all. In the story of John Nash, a brilliant mathematician (see the movie “A Beautiful Mind” starring Russell Crowe), he proved mathematically that cooperation beats out competition. Therefore, even logic conspires to support such human values as compassion, inspiration, and ingenuity to mention just a few. For better or worse, humans, however, are not limited by logic and reason. If, AI is constrained by logic, we need to put limits on it just as we regulate countless other machines and processes to a higher standard than mere efficiency.

Consciousness and intelligence are not necessarily synonymous. Intelligence is found everywhere in the universe in forms both organic and inorganic. Matter in its countless forms, though seemingly not self-aware, exhibits amazing intelligence by virtue of its organization, symmetry, beauty  and functionality.

If a perfectly formed human robot comes to me and interacts with me using familiar forms of speech, intelligent responses and questions, and emotions, I might not be able to know, initially, whether it is human or non-human. Intelligence and consciousness are, in practical terms, difficult to separate. My existence may be perfectly obvious to me but to others it can only be proved by whether I breath, speak or move.

But the fact that it is difficult (and at times, impossible) to distinguish human from non-human responses doesn’t preclude the subjective distinction between self-awareness and programmed intelligence. Intuition, which I shall discuss later, can reveal to me that the “person” I am speaking with is a non-human despite outward evidence to the contrary, just as intuition can reveal to me that a person is untruthful despite being a clever liar. Only consciousness can detect consciousness separate from its manifestations or lack thereof.

I read an article a year or two ago about how very simple robotic pets were popular among older Japanese. Some say that human-like robots may become human companions someday, even romantic partners. Well, even real human romantic partners have their shortcomings, and the satisfaction of human romance in any case will fade no matter what form the partner takes. At least the robotic ones might fulfill one’s fantasies more consistently. So fine. We humans can obsess over just about anything but just as quickly we tire of predictability or we desire change or novelty. This possibility, in other words, proves little except perhaps the shallowness of human beings.

Let’s explore this self-aware I AM from another angle. Where do ideas come from? We can say legitimately that “I had an idea.” But upon reflection, and only a little is required, the more correct way of reporting my experience is to say, “An idea came into my mind.” Or, more naturally, “An idea came to me.”

Would a robot have ideas randomly appearing in its circuits? A robot will of course come up with ideas, but I assume only when it is seeking them using its electronic processing abilities. Those who scoff at the potential offered by the existence of intuition may say that our ideas are but a clever reconstitution of information known, perhaps stored in the subconscious mind, like a kind of hard disk. In this view, a robot might conceivably come up with some interesting and clever ideas by sorting out everything it can find on the problem but is this how all new ideas are formed? Many ideas, yes, surely have their source in the subconscious mind, but all?

Did the symphonies of Mozart, the poetry of Rumi, and scriptures of the world have their source in re-arranging past impressions or known facts, like making a soup out of whatever you have on hand? While it is true that music derives from the same basic notes, will a machine be able to match Beethoven’s Ninth? Can a robot produce works of genius or reveal inspiration that is so beyond present knowledge or art that it seems to come from heaven above?

Einstein is said to have received the idea of E=mc2 in a flash, an image, if I recall, of someone riding a bullet. In “Talks with Great Composers” by Arthur Abell, the composers report “receiving” their musical inspirations rather than crafting them. Can great art or science be replicated by a machine?

Creativity is the frontier between consciousness and machine intelligence. To believe that intelligence is equivalent to consciousness reflects the materialistic bias of modern science. It is the same error Descartes made.

Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the spiritual classic “Autobiography of a Yogi, called the realm of intuition “Super-consciousness.” This realm has been given other names by other people with varying descriptions of its attributes. For my purposes in this article, I share Yogananda’s description that the superconscious mind is an overarching field of consciousness that transcends individual egoic awareness, personality, or the conscious and subconscious minds. Its dominant characteristics, apart from spiritual attributes, is that of a unitive, solution-facing orientation: a wellspring of personally meaningful solutions tailor-made for us and our role in life. Einstein received scientific inspirations, Beethoven, Bach and Mozart, musical ones. It was their respective destinies to contribute to human civilization. For you and I, our inspirations may be more mundane but they are gratefully and usefully received by us nonetheless.

It is access to this realm of “superconscious” inspirations that can distinguish human consciousness from machine intelligence. When I say “distinguish” I am not referring to an objective yardstick of measurement. Both consciousness and intelligence can only be measured by their objective manifestations. The former is the source of the latter. Consciousness requires no objective attributes to exist while intelligence has no existence except by its measurable manifestations. The distinction I am referring to is necessarily subjective though to be labelled a superconscious inspiration means that there will be one or more people who recognize the inspiration as greater than reason or subconscious rearrangement. To state the principle again: only consciousness can recognize consciousness.

Is what I am saying therefore a useless tautology? In the practical requirements of science, commerce and day to day living, yes, I suppose that is true. But in the convoluted and confused arena of AI and human consciousness, I believe this distinction to be a worthy one for thoughtful people.

It is no coincidence that it is human inspiration and skill that is creating machine intelligence. If machine intelligence outpaces human efficiency in science and daily life that would not, by itself, negate the human capacity for genius and inspired solutions.

The human capacity to experience transcendent states of awe, wonder, and unitive upliftment will, I believe, forever distinguish us from anything we create from only our intellect. I suppose it is possible that the life sciences (biology) can combine with the tools of learning (AI) to create “life” that will come closer to human consciousness. Human sperm and ovum are the building blocks of the human form and consciousness. Cloning may someday become a reality. But if such human forms become possible, they will require something far beyond the AI being developed at this time.

Man, declared by scripture to “be made in the image of God,” seems destined to want to be God. “Do not your scriptures say, ‘Ye are gods?’” replied Jesus Christ to his priestly tormentors. In the Old Testament God is said to grant humanity “dominion over every living thing.”

Both man and all things in nature are endowed with the power to perpetuate their respective species. That mankind may do so in new ways, creating new forms, would hardly be outside the realm of evolution, scripture, past history and imagination. The consequences may be beneficial or evil: like everything else we create; indeed, like everything else the Creator has created! This realm is beyond the AI that we are seeing unfold here and now.

When we view life from the material side of existence, we create machines that mimic and substitute for our own efforts. When we view life from the spiritual side of life, what we seek is happiness and freedom from ignorance and suffering. This spiritual state of being is neither produced nor defined by material existence or any material form. So even if we can create an army of human-like beings so that we may live with greater ease and efficiency, we will be no closer to the goal of perpetual happiness and freedom from suffering than we have ever been by our own material achievements down through the ages.

The promise of our soul’s immortality and eternal happiness can only be found in re-directing our attention inward and upward to the throne of Divinity’s indwelling consciousness: the source of all things in creation.

Despite humankind’s fevered effort to conquer nature and reveal Her secrets, the secret of our existence lies, as Jesus declared, “within you.”

Jai to the indwelling Christ-Krishna, Lord of all Creation,

Swami Hrimananda