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will AIs ever have a conscience?

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The season 4 of Western world is imminent: Dolores, Charlotte and Caleb may surprise us. Will the robot revolution end? We will find out on the day of its release date, June 26. In the meantime, why not ask the question of the awareness ? It surrounds the series, in every season: from the first episode in which each host seems to follow a precise scenario, to the last season in which humans implant their minds in artificial bodies.

Season 4 will be released on June 26 on OCS. © HBO, YouTube

How to define consciousness?

Intelligence, conscience, thought, or even the living: so many terms for which the definitions do not reach a consensus. This is one of the mysteries that has surrounded us for hundreds of years, even thousands of years: where does our consciousness come from and how is it defined? Various theories are based on it, but most of them distinguish conscience and the self-awareness. One is more oriented to awakening and thinking skills, and the other to stand out from other living beings around us: it is this self-awareness that confers free will, moral values ​​or taking into account the world around us. The very famous can be mentioned Cogito ergo sum “, Where is it I think yes by the mathematician and philosopher René Descarteswhich attributes to thought a form of certainty of existence.

Experiments have shown that in addition to humans, other animals are self-conscious. In particular, one study proved this elephants are part of it: not only have they passed the “test of mirror and stain “, during which they end up cleaning a sign painted on their heads after looking at themselves in the mirror, but also that of the carpet. An Asian elephant managed to realize that its body was on a carpet, which blocked the passage of a stick attached to this same carpet.

Science often works by biomimicry, that is, by drawing inspiration from living things. The digitization of human consciousness is therefore a logical step in creating an artificial intelligence that should simulate or surpass our capabilities. Futura-Sciences met Jean-Claude Heudin, director of the research laboratory of the IIM (Internet and Multimedia Institute) to understand the difficulties of such an undertaking. © Futura

From the part of brain, the areas of consciousness remain untraceable for the moment. The researchers, however, managed to map the brain for several different states of consciousness : during to sleepthe coma or when a person is awake. And they found differences in interactions between regions: in conscious people, they are more dynamic and complex, while in unconscious people they become simpler and only occur between regions that are directly connected to each other. . As for the areas of consciousness, they would be in the encefalic trunk for the awakening zone, then in the Prefrontal cortex. Finding all of these areas has the ultimate goal of mapping the brain. With a real map of cognitive functions and their location, researchers could then implant this same structure in a artificial intelligence.

Finally, a theory supposes a quantum origin of consciousness : the theory of orchestrated objective reduction of consciousness, often called Orch Or theory. First suggested by the mathematician Roger Penrose and University of Arizona anesthetist Stuart Hammeroff attributes consciousness to quantum computations in the brain. Controversial because the brain’s hot, humid environment would be too disruptive for quantum effects to survive, he assumes electrical oscillations in microtubules, tiny structures located in the neurons of the brain. Currently, researchers are experimenting underground to find nearly undetectable radiation caused by these quantum fluctuations.

The key Western worldthe “daydreams”

But in Western world, we learn from season 1, the conscience of the hosts was built thanks to “dreams”: the events experienced during the night pass and relive, while they are immersed in an artificial sleep. Contrary to our own dreams, daydreams are made of real memories, and they are not distorted realities, they do not contain incongruous elements. The next day, just like us, the fragments return to them and gradually become aware of themselves. But daydreams are more than that: robots of Western world, or the conductors as they are called in the series, begin to hear a voice in their mind. That of Arnold, one of the co-founders of the park, who committed suicide in an attempt to prevent its opening to the public, convinced that his creations were conscious.

The basic assumption is first and foremost that dreams are fundamental for establishing consciousness, not just memories, which are already implanted in guests. Indeed, these memories create an identity for the robot, making it more human, but they are not enough to question its existence. The series speaks instead of a pyramid of consciousness, the first level of which is memory, the second, improvisation (creation, which comes out of a program defined in advance), the third, self-interest, and the last level. it is never explained but it is assumed that we find the famous conscience there. For this the character of Arnold, co-founder of the park Western world, is based on the bicameralism or bicameral theory of mind established by the psychologist Julian Jaynes, the idea that a its beginnings man he mistook his thoughts for divine voices. Gradually, this bicamerality would collapse and Man would then develop a true consciousness. This assumption has been refuted, but it made a lot of noise in the 1980s.

AI are progressing more and more, will they pass the Turing test?

But for a robot, or an artificial intelligence that follows a program, the question of consciousness arises differently: how to ensure that if it develops signs of consciousness, it is real and not simply the consequence of a computer program? This is where the Turing proof comes into play, established in 1950 by the mathematician and cryptologist Alan Turing. We learn it in season 1: the park Western world was authorized to open after passing this test. It consists in evaluating the ability of an artificial intelligence to perfectly imitate a human being, to the point that it is impossible to distinguish it from a real person. Currently, no AI actually passed the testbut it would be Gato, owned by Google, to come closest.

Another Google AI recently sparked controversy: An engineer claimed that the MDA artificial intelligence had reached a similar level of consciousness to ours. For this he relied on the dialogues he had with the AI: in one of them, he claimed to be afraid of his deactivation, which he considers the equivalent of death in human beings. But Google has claimed that all of these dialogues are just improvisations on known themes, and that there is no trace of conscience there, and the engineer has been fired. It’s not the first time something like this has happened, like ethics in AI remain up for debate.

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