There are many theories on how consciousness works in the brain but at present they are all grasping at straws. Such examples are the Integrated Information and the Global Workspace theories. There is a common thread running through most of them, that there is a constant flow of ‘ideas’ flowing from brain areas and one or two can gain traction to be the prime candidate. This ‘thought’ can be spotlighted as long as it can hold attention and awareness, this is of course can also be instigated by a direct threat or advantage. Many consider consciousness to be an organic property and cannot be present in synthetic entities. Others that consciousness is a by-product of the density of neuronal connections, or similar, that can be packed into a discrete area. Make an AI thing smart enough and consciousness follows. The perceived advantage of consciousness is that it directs thoughts and actions in a focused way. Deeper analysis, long term goals, predictions and higher social awareness are some of the goodies that come with it. Some of the differences between us and them are emotions and intuition. One can assume that AI will be logical and not get worried about what people think about them, for instance.
Another popular approach is that consciousness is a series of virtual machines/intelligent agents that originate at a lower brain area and are picked up by higher and higher levels. Some think that the neocortex area holds the key to thinking and lower virtual areas are either retrieved or called as required. These lower areas have the ability to organise themselves into useful information that can be relevant. If this is the case, then this model could also apply to AI. It has been found that these VM units are specific to certain actions, such as when you eat something. The chemical reaction is only a part of the response but also whether it should be spat out, or kept and associated memories are linked to this, of pleasure, past history and even guilt. Another theory is becoming prevalent is that we work to a set of rules. These rules are transferable and can be reused for similar events.
There is a lot of work being done on relating actions to parts of the brain. This has been very beneficial in Parkinson’s disease and others but does not explain what is going on under the hood. Advances in genetics and epigenetics also help us understand how neurotransmitters and hormones affect the human body. Neurons are really small and even now we can either work on a single one that is found in the squid or many (voxels) but not in the tens or hundreds. Also C. elegans is a roundworm with approximately 300 neurons and 7000 connections and we still cannot explain how it moves. The many successes sometimes hide the fact that we have a long way to go in our hopeful discovery of what makes things tick. Other techniques such as microRNA, CRISPR, protein and virus substitution and transportation still show us that nature is best.
Vive le difference?
One thing has become clear that humans are not just reliant on their brains but also their bodies. Input from the body not only provides data for the brain but also fine tunes the organism as a whole. Many actions are carried out at the local level and unconscious thought is integral to the whole entity. Whether robotics can integrate this synergy is debatable by many and dismissed by others as not important. Although there appears to be similarities in concept and design, it may be synthetic life is so different that its unique qualities such as neural speed and robustness would be pursued rather than sentient sameness. It is already accepted that AI will think like AI and any apparent empathy would be constructs and not real.
It could be generally said that life’s prime purpose is to produce more of its kind and intelligent machines to complete certain tasks. The ultimate aim of AI fundamentalists is to produce a machine with AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) which would be the equivalent of our own. Many doubt that this would be safe or useful. The main use would be robots that could go into hostile environments and do stuff that we cannot. This is fine until it refuses to go, arguing “that it’s dangerous in there pal”. As mentioned before the optimal option would be for AI to do the things that they are good at and leave the decision making to us. It may be safe to assume that AI would be logical in its approach to things but we have a non-logical side to us for a reason. Emotions are very strong in us and does serve a very important branch of our choices. Intuition, empathy, social, preferred choices etc. may not seem important but they are. Decisions are not only logical but are dependent on many shared historic outcomes that are not immediately evident.
The most obvious impact of AI is the consequence of the automation of tasks across a broad range of industries, transformed from manual to digital. Tasks or roles that include a degree of repetition or the consumption and interpretation of vast amounts of data are now delivered and processed by a computer, sometimes not needing the intervention of humans. AI technologies are constructed by mathematical processes that leverage increasing computing power to deliver faster and more accurate models and forecasts of operational systems, or enhanced representations and combinations of large data sets. However, while these advanced technologies can perform some tasks with higher efficiency and accuracy, human expertise still plays a critical role in designing and utilising AI technology. Human intelligence is what shapes the emergence and adoption of artificial intelligence and innovative solutions associated with it. It is human intelligence that seeks to ask ‘why’ and considers ‘what if’ through critical thinking. As engineering design continues to be challenged by complex problems and quality of data, the need for human oversight, expertise and quality assurance is essential in using AI generated outputs.
In the age of AI, understanding the function of work beyond merely sustaining a standard of living is even more important. It becomes a reflection of the fundamental human need for participation, co-creation, contribution, and a sense of being needed; and thus, must not be overlooked. So, in some way, even the ordinary and dull tasks at work become valuable and worthwhile, and if it is removed or has been automated, it should be replaced with something that provides the same for human expression and discovery.
With robots, AI, and automation taking some of the mundane and manual tasks out of our hands, professionals have more time to focus in thinking, delivering creative and innovative solutions, and actions that are beyond the reach of AI and are squarely in the domain of human intelligence. This may of course leave us totally on AI to do most tasks and leaving us bored with no purpose
When used with a purpose and not for technology’s sake, AI can unlock tons of opportunities for businesses and improve productivity and participation within the organisation. This, in turn, can result in an increase in demand for products and services and drive an economic growth model that delivers and improves the quality of living. Hopefully.
Most discussions about artificial intelligence are interspersed by hyperbole and hysteria. Though some of the world’s most prominent and successful thinkers regularly forecast that AI will either solve all our problems or destroy us or our society, and the press frequently report on how AI will threaten jobs and raise inequality, there’s actually very little evidence to support these ideas. What’s more, this could actually end up turning people against AI research, bringing significant progress in the technology to a halt.
The hyperbole around AI largely stems from its promotion by tech-evangelists and self-interested investors. Google CEO Sundar Pichai declared AI to be “probably the most important thing humanity has ever worked on”. Given the importance of AI to Google’s business model, he would say that.
Some even argue that AI is a solution to humanity’s fundamental problems, including death, and that we will eventually merge with machines to become an unstoppable force. The inventor and writer Ray Kurzweil has famously argued this “Singularity” will occur by as soon as 2045.
The hysteria around AI comes from similar sources. The likes of physicist Stephen Hawking and billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk warned that AI poses an existential threat to humanity. If AI doesn’t destroy us, the doomsayers argue, then it may at least cause mass unemployment through job automation. The reality of AI is currently very different, particularly when you look at the threat of automation. Back in 2013, researchers estimated that, in the following ten to 20 years, 47% of jobs in the US could be automated. Six years later, instead of a trend towards mass joblessness, we’re in fact seeing US unemployment at a historic low.
AI is not even making advanced economies more productive. For example, in the ten years following the financial crisis, labour productivity in the UK grew at its slowest average rate since 1761. Evidence shows that even global superstar firms, including firms who are among the top investors in AI and whose business models depends on it such as Google, Facebook and Amazon, have not become more productive. This contradicts claims that AI will inevitably enhance productivity.
Before the discussion turns to the unique problems of the technical issues in producing a compact anthropological machine, the impact of society acceptance must be broached.
There is already a distinction made for male (android) and female (gynoid) varieties of these specialised robots. Gynoids would most probably be preferred for companions and carers as they offer the least visual threat. Society can be slow to welcome the new and religious beliefs may never allow the use of such interlopers.
Japan has already reached a young/old population imbalance and other countries are catching up fast. Culturally they have a more open mind to machination and this is where progress is being made at present. The problem of power is not so apparent if the distribution of top up outlets are easily contacted. This is of course a problem for external and heavy energy use. Also the smaller and more slender shape would constrict room from servo-motors and logic and sensor arrays. Droids might also be used as the front end for medical, teaching and other face to face interactions. Back end information could be piped to the droid with additional machines doing the real work. This could be the case in medical examinations where the soothing artificial voice could talk you through your procedure in sync with the specialised surgery equipment. Of course if the droid says “whoops” then you have got real problems.
If we assume that droids are humanoid robots, then this will present them with a unique set of problems. Not only are they restricted by their physical size and abilities but must be acceptable to the general human population.
Set of problems:
The determination of some scientists to dedicate themselves to solving a tiny piece of one of life’s jigsaw parts, fills me with awe. Research is an ongoing thing that is as mercurial as the seasons change. Some of us have chosen to step back and try and see the “bigger picture” of who we are. It is not unfair to say that for all our successes we are still gathering the low hanging fruit. We all think we have “cracked it” at times, to discover that our fleeting euphoria was misplaced and sent us back to our drawing boards. It is easy to lose direction when we are seduced by a possible prize, in whatever form it takes. The one question we should always ask first, is what are we trying to do here. As obvious as it seems, many a project starts at the middle or through a misplaced sense of prior knowledge. It can also be hard to change direction when through financial or egoistical pressure it is deemed necessary to push ahead against logic. Recent research (bless it) points out that emotions have a higher score than rationality and nature above nurture. Perhaps this is what makes us human and prone to mistakes.
There have been many attempts to define consciousness including Ulric Neisser’s five point description. Some theories hold that “self” is a flowing thing that consists of constantly changing parts. When one sleeps, this flow is temporarily switched off until we wake again. It would seem more probable that some area of the brain holds a framework of basic continuity that allows us to wake up, without having to restore the network again. This is similar to the ROM in computers but only similar.
All life is reliant on limited resources and the brain is limited by this fact as well. It is a heavy user of energy and cognition is one the heaviest users. It is thought that there is a lower user in form of the “default network” which operates when focused thought is “switched off”. This network handles the production of qualia and other higher medium actions.
Most of the activity in the brain is done by the unconscious areas, some of these actions are quite complex especially the ones in the cerebellum. This area has approximately half the neurons of the total brain situated here. It is much better than the pre-frontal cortex in making quick decisions about movement etc. It is the centre of co-ordination and uses past similar occurrences as a template. In spite of this it is not considered capable of thought but only of reactive abilities.
For life to exist it had to have control of its ingredients, this means it had to form a stasis of molecules inside a membrane. The membrane protects the inner chemical reactions and allowed the bacteria to have some kind of repeatable biological reactions. This wall has to have micro holes to let in nutrients and expel waste and also by default, it could “sense” other bacterial presences and organic molecules. Touch must have been present very early by the use of proton avalanches and light sensitivity followed. This would have been the start of communication to the outside world and other life.
As multi-cellular organisms (eukaryotic) came on the scene, the level of dependence increased rapidly and the organisation of cells demanded more sophistication in control of its needs and design. The encapsulation of mitochondria into the cell, powered the organism to be more active but also needed more food to sustain the increased metabolism. This set the path for higher life forms and its associated refinement.
It could be said that cognition was not some miracle that happened to humanity but was a gradual evolution in control and communication of reasoning and brain development. Our embryos give us a clue how the brain grows from being a neural tube to being a large collection of interconnected specialised cells that form a virtual representation of a world that exists outside it. As the organism moves mainly in one direction it would naturally put its main sensors at the front so as to pick up the good and bad early. With greater sensory organs, the need for greater command and control and hence neural cell population and diversity expanded. This growth not only increased the girth of the brain but tacked on new additions to the frontal area. It makes it possible to equate the newness of an area with its position. An exception is the so called optic nerve, which is actually part of the brain. As the eyes had to be at the front, the related area of sensor and imaging was ancient and therefore further back. This was solved by a neural tube stretching to link the eyes.
Some say that consciousness is a top down construct that only occurs in humans and possibly super AI of the future. It is an executive controller that uses attention to concentrate on a particular area of thought for a very limited time This length may be extended if the thought is strong or interesting enough to hold attention due to its importance. For instance a lion bounding full speed at you would keep you on your toes. This theory presupposes that we are unique in the living world and we have been blessed with an advanced skill that lower things will never possess.
Evolution is a slow process with spurts of rapid mutations. Many things can cause this from genetic, environmental and even such things as quantum mechanics. DNA is a robust molecule with many error correctors both in epigenetic and transcription mechanisms. Never the less, errors get through and unfortunately most mutations are unfavourable but some make all the difference to future survivability. Even the lowliest bacteria has evolved over the aeons and we can not expect less of ourselves.
The system of receptor and effector is the basic core of life. The occurrence of some kind of activity will activate some kind of response. Life is never static as it is activated by reactions to external or internal forces that either require a positive, negative or homeostasis action. Each has its related behaviour as doing nothing is just as relevant as the other two. Organisms use inhibitory and excitatory conduct to do something or keep balance, it is never inert. Many predatory animals can only comprehend movement in their prey as this is more efficient.
The one thing all living things have in common is the efficient uses of resources. These are limited by the natural world and are often husbanded and carefully expended to ensure the continuation of the organism. This in itself is a very early and important evolutional state of existence. The brain, as wonderful as it is, could never cope with the amount of stimuli and decisions it has to make and therefore takes a minimal approach in triage judgment. The eye can be 'fooled' because the brain is modelling the signals it received and taking the easy way out.
If different related parts have invariably produced their own local network, that they can hookup with other areas and so on. This could produce a hierarchy of virtual modelling that can be tapped into by the highest level – consciousness. Ideas/qualia/chunks of what ever structure, are called or created with a selective area being spotlighted as the most immediate point of interest. These ideas do not have to be actual information but could be extrapolated or simply a wish list.
Thoughts arise very quickly and to accomplish this it could be presumed that the constituents are already available in some form of pre-packaged condition. The cerebral cortex is quoted as the most likely place where these chunks of information are held for quick response. The neocortex has a unique six layer network that allows it direct access to other parts of the brain and would seem like an ideal physical place to originate the consolidation of cognisance. If a final arbiter of thought does exist then it would need such an area for its content to coalesce and be added to or modified on demand.
Neurons are born to spike. If they do not fire regularly then they die, so they are always doing something and most of it could be modelling. Some may be in sparse areas where they are in a form of standby but even these must spike at some time. The time lag and lack of real information from external and interior sensors forces the brain to construct a theoretical vision of the world and use it to try and predict advantageous outcomes. This is arguably the most important function that the forebrain does.
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