On Consciousness, and Artificial Intelligence

Far too many search for simplistic, sequential, highly inadequate answers to phenomena such as consciousness, understanding, even perception. A habit cultivated by too much abstraction, practiced in languages, and symbolic representations of all forms, perhaps!

Some, for instance, are so much in love with languages as to claim that consciousness is closely related to linguistic structures such as the personal pronoun “I” and its use! In discussion and debate over years, I’ve labored to show that consciousness extends over a vast range of living entities, and is not by any means the domain of any language, or means for communication, but may, of course, be enhanced by such tools.

And some, centuries ago and to the present day, have hung their hats on thought as a foundation for consciousness – Descartes is an example looming large – which has, of course, been convincingly discredited, through logical type mismatch errors too. “Cogito ergo sum” – or “I think therefore I am,” is a grand declaration for sure, but ails from extreme reductionism, human arrogance (of sentience claims), and a mismatch between a verb and a noun form linguistically. ‘Thinking’ is not in any conceivable way physically ‘being.’ With all due respect to Descartes’s body of work, this declaration, which received so much attention over the centuries, falls flat in [almost any] comprehension of consciousness.

No, one must approach the phenomenon holistically. I think all of life’s processes are manifestations of consciousness; it is thus most complex. Yes, life manifests consciousness, consciousness is life; it is not poured into life in some mysterious way. One can design a complex machine that goes through its programmed motions, but that is an automaton, a simple self-directed system, an imitation of a sub-set of life, perhaps. Such exact determinism in responses isn’t natural, nor can it approach the heights of accomplishment that life, in the greatest of adversity and uncertainty, is capable of.

I think that it is our capacity for error and approximation, for conflict combined with resolution, for ambiguity faced with resolve, that we overcome limitations of linear thought or action. It is in a multitude of perspectives, in our imaginative abilities, by asking “what if?” and doing things somewhat differently, and with sentiment and emotion, that we overcome insurmountable obstacles. And sometimes, we arrive at answers in a “black box” manner, by gut feel and intuition, by what may be called quantum leaps in finding solutions…all of which are aspects of extremely complex, holistic, systems such as the temperamental, error prone, neuro-electro-chemical organs biological brains are.

So what does all this thinking mean in terms of the development of artificial intelligence and consciousness? It’s silly to think that we’ll develop such phenomena by writing millions of lines of code, or by means of the internet as some declare fearfully; all that may only be our habit of leaping to conclusions. Neural net simulations (such as the Restricted Hypersphere of Influence algorithm I worked to develop in ’94 that looked for lines and edges) have demonstrated a self-organizing capacity for approximation, for abstraction; such ability can perhaps begin to assist in motion management to start with. I recall that fuzzy logic – a related field of research – was (is?) employed in vehicles that automatically park themselves. I think such beginnings are far more practical; complexity may be built in gradually to lead to the development of consciousness.

Let’s not try to build any artificial being in our image, and scare ourselves with visions of demonic domination, before we build the simplest sub-parts…

What do you think?


About Rian Nejar

Rian Nejar is an Indian-American author. He trained and worked as an engineer in India, lived briefly in the Middle East, and arrived in America in the early 90's. After a Master’s degree in electrical engineering in America, he worked as an academic instructor, engineer, entrepreneur, and technical writer over the two decades since. Humbling and Humility (http://goo.gl/FKUnCM) is his first mainstream nonfiction. He lives and writes in the Southwest United States.
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2 Responses to On Consciousness, and Artificial Intelligence

  1. Pingback: Free Will, Domain, and a Continuum of Consciousness | Humbling and Humility

  2. Pingback: Life, Consciousness, Thinking and Feeling: Lines of Code? | Humbling and Humility

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