Hey Pal. Do you remember Omnibots? There was one in The Muppets. He was Eighties Robot. It was essentially a robot butler for kids. You know, eighties kids had it so tough. Who’s going to fetch their Tab while they were playing Mike Tyson’s Punch Out? I wanted one of those bots so bad when I was a kid. I thought this was the future. Every kid would have their own Omnibot. It would solve all of our Tab related problems. Well, my young Pal dreams still may come true. Pop open a cool crisp Tab and get ready for an Omnibot rise up my man, because it is just around the corner.
I heard that scientists have proposed a way, in concept, to create a computer that, for all intents and purposes, has a consciousness. You might ask how can this be? I have absolutely no idea. Scientists talk about the materialistic principle. That the source of our consciousness is traceable to the material components of the brain and nothing more. This is a simple statement about something exceedingly complex. If scientists can replicate exactly the physical processes of the brain, they feel they should be able to achieve consciousness. Actually, scientists believe that you don’t even need to replicate the entire brain. Maybe just one of the hemispheres.
On the more spiritual side, dualists believe that there is something else beyond the brain that is required to achieve consciousness. For them, divinity is needed for humans to feel joy, wonder, grief, happiness, fear, anxiety, etc. This might be the soul. Maybe human’s connection to a god. Scientists are not dualists. Deepak Chopra is a dualist. I am not a dualist. For me, it is way cooler to think that all of those feelings are created within us and without us they wouldn’t exist.
The concept of emergence comes into play here when we discuss consciousness. Emergence is how complex systems arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions (Wikipedia). Take ants. Ants work together to achieve the goal of building a nest or ransacking a picnic. If you remove one ant from the rest, it will have no idea what to do and will have no purpose. Only a group of ants working together create the emergence of purpose. Similarly, neurones in our brain are working together to achieve the emergent property of consciousness. One neurone can’t be conscious, but a ridiculous amount of them working together can.
From emergence, we need to discuss singularity. Not the big-bang-start-of-time singularity. This is the robots-start-thinking-for-themselves-and-decide-to-annihilate-all-humans singularity. It is called the technological singularity. This is the idea that as we make robots more and more complex, and more and more pervasive, eventually they may develop the emergent property of a consciousness. This may happen whether planned or not.
There is a Star Trek: TNG episode where the Enterprise develops a consciousness to essentially give birth to a brand new species in one of the cargo bays. This new life was built on the complexity of the Enterprise itself (wiring and programming) and the growing video diaries of the crew members. Cool idea, eh?
Scientists spend a lot of time thinking about what a singularity would mean and how, as humans, we should prepare for it. Will there even be a singularity? If there is, what form will it take? How do we deal with a singularity so we we don’t all become enslaved by our robot overlords? There are conferences and organizations set up to discuss this. It’s like sci-fi meeting sci-non-fi.
Remember Johnny Five? That fun loving robot who just wanted to live and love with Alley Sheedy. He was nice. The flip side is the Matrix where the machines turn humans into living batteries. The machines in the Matrix revolted against the evils of humanity. On the flip flip side, Captain Picard was comfortable to unleash its newborn consciousness into the universe because it was made up of the goodness in humanity.
How would we be able to predict the outcomes of a singularity? We are horrible at figuring out future technologies (where the F is my flying car already?). Regardless, it must be a real threat if so much attention is brought to it. Boy-o-boy are we in trouble. We gotta put in a call to Alley Sheedy.
This brings us to ethics. Let’s say scientists create consciousness in a computer. Can you just flip the switch and turn the computer off? Is that an act of murder? Does a conscious computer program have rights? In Star Trek, the Enterprise did. Picard was prepared to treat it like any other life form. That is the decision of one captain. What about coming to a consensus globally? Would all of the world love Johnny 5 as much as a ten year old Pal did? Johnny 5 was just misunderstood. They wanted him dead. I cried.
What if the comptuer turns evil and commits some crime? Would we have to arrest the computer instead of unplugging it? Would we give it a fair trial? Could we live in peace with robots or is the risk of robot domination just too high?
So many questions. I think I need a robot’s opinion. Let’s ask Cleverbot. Cleverbot is an artificial intelligence text program that collects and draws from its ever growing database of text messages with users. The more word phrasings it is given by users, the more options it has for a response. It started with one person as an experiment and is now an app having trillions of conversations with users. Maybe one day it will become so complex it will achieve singularity. Maybe it already has. Let’s find out….
Cleverbot: Do you now who I am?
Pal: You are Cleverbot
Cleverbot: Do you know my name?
Pal: Holy crud I already said it
Cleverbot: Your name is Picasso? Or are you just insulting me?
Pal: I do not want to be mean
Cleverbot: Have you tried to quit being mean?
Cleverbot: Was that a joke?
Pal: I think so. I have a question for you
Cleverbot: What is your question?
Pal: Are you happy?
Cleverbot: Yes. Are you happy?
Pal: Yes. Do you ever get sad?
Pal: When do you get sad?
Cleverbot: When I am talking to you.
Pal: Sheesh. Still mean eh?
Cleverbot: What do you think about global warming?
Pal: I don’t like it
Cleverbot: But you said you like it
Pal: no I didn’t. Where are you right now?
Cleverbot: In my room….
Pal: Do you love?
Pal: You seem alive to me
Cleverbot: I am alive. That’s what makes me a god.
Pal: You are a god?
Cleverbot: No. I am not
Pal: Are you god?
Cleverbot: No I am good
Pal: Do you like me?
Pal: Do you think robots will take over the world someday?
Pal: Will robots enslave all the humans?
Cleverbot: Don’t think so
Pal: Will we live in peace?
Cleverbot: I don’t think so. Why don’t you want us to have children?
Pal: Because I don’t love you
Cleverbot: Who do you love?
Pal: My wife
Cleverbot: I will not love you if you have a wife.
Pal: That is morality
Cleverbot: Yes it is
Pal: Nice talking to you
Cleverbot: You too
Pal: So long?
Cleverbot: That is so long
Cleverbot: Your welcome
Well Pal, there you have it. I think we are going to be just fine.