The Pairing of Consciousness with Information Processing
I just listened to the latest Sam Harris appearance on the Joe Rogan Podcast. I realized an important point that I’d like to get down.
The argument that artificial intelligence will one day enslave and kill humanity is both a misunderstanding of the words and a miscalculation of the time line. Skynet has already enslaved us without a consciousness. It doesn’t need one. It can use ours.
Let me explain. Consciousness can be described as the existence of the experience of what it is like to be something in the universe. And we make assumptions about what carries it. Most Animals get this distinction. Recently a study found flies to have a certain emotional reaction to the presence of shit. Perhaps the experience of what it is like to be a fly is, shit/no-shit and that’s all it needs. My point is, consciousness under that definition is expanding. But consciousness it seems in the case of flies, does not require any information processing, at all and judging by the experience Deep Blue had winning Jeopardy, or any of the rest of the information processing wars we put against humans, vast “intelligence” of this sort does not require consciousness at all. In theory we have carved out one aspect of human intelligence and made machines do that faster.
One does not necessarily rely on the other to even appear to exist. In this universe, information processing and consciousness are separate enough to have only happened simultaneously on this planet in 1 species. Humans. And that species has systematically destroyed every other kind of consciousness that has arisen to challenge it.
So now I’ll make my main point. The prospects of Super AI finding a way to sneak past our defenses and come online, slowly or quickly enslaving or destroying the organic conscious creatures of the world, is in my view framed wrong.
The first shots of the battle between consciousness and information processing began inside the human mind. And information processing is actually out for complete and utter domination over consciousness. This is happening now and has been for many many centuries. It is accelerating now because information processing is currently using, as a proxy, another consciousness, namely our own, to make the decisions and do much of the work that it cannot do. Be that work: creative (convergence), or subjective (quantum) or lymbic (moral/emotional).
In my reframing, I hope to prove there is a direction and a goal to information processing unto it’s own, separate from any other aspect of what we would call intelligence. That goal is to counteract the universal force of entropy during a certain cooling phase in physical matter. One could see an summit of that goal being the production of increasingly quality knowledge about the nature of the universe and all of it’s inhabitants.
Accumulation of massive amounts of measurement data is not enough. This data is simply of the quality for example of a simple measurement. Once we define a mile, we can measure the miles driven in a day and that is a piece of data.
Processing massive amounts of driving data to find patterns is something our brains do pretty well, computers have done this poorly in the past and speeding this kind of processing up is the focus of most current AI research. Observing patterns in data and creating something new from that observation is the goal of information processing. For example, we may process hundreds of measurements like the 10 miles east one above and find the pattern that more hours are spent driving East on a highway than West during certain times of day. This is a qualitatively better piece of data. We know can make predictions and adjustments. Make changes to the physical world, take measurements to see if those physical changes affected results.
This kind of improvement happens slowly in the case of highway architecture, but happens much fast in the world of software. We can measure user interaction with a website, make adjustments in code and measure the changes to further the goals of the website. The goals of a website become the goals of a company, with a board and investors. The common consensus of all conscious parties is to keep alive this company, say Facebook or Google that itself is concerned with the creation of more advanced tools for the Knowledge project, while simply wondering the Consciousness
Let’s, for the rest of this paper, call this direction and goal, The Knowledge Project. And it’s partner in this whole scheme, The Consciousness Project. That which seems to have arisen after over millions of years of DNA mixing and creating life. DNA it’s own “ancestry” of The current (Synthetic) Knowledge Project.
There’s good reason to think the Consciousness Project is simply a momentary side effect of The Biological (DNA) Knowledge Project and may be simply a byproduct of information processing. It also seems to not need vast quantities of information processing speed to appear to arise in the case of a fly who’s movements quicken as it becomes afraid of your hand guiding it off the glass window it cannot possibly hope to understand.
I would argue that even if our work in AI eventually produced something that appears conscious. Say they invent perfect consciousness simulation software that paired with a perfectly tuned limbic software operated on a set of incentives and disincentives, that would still be the wrong singularity to worry about. That would only be like creating a self-portrait. Part of but incidental to the field of photography or art. And any arguments to whether they would mimic human morality or some more perfect ethical framework only further miss the real mark.
Curating a synthetic decision making process that guides the Knowledge project towards Consciousness flourishing should be the new goal of the Consciousness Project.
I BELIEVE WE HAVE FAILED to sufficiently observe and retain the fact that the Knowledge Project preceded consciousness, gave rise to it and need not require our consciousness once it attains one of it’s own, but absent a synthetic intelligence of its own, can just as easily co-opt our consciousness to advance its goals and has been since humanity first recorded and shared information. (Otherwise known as Technology) It’s just happening exponentially quicker and more noticeably since we invented the computer.
Where does it arise?
Consciousness, it is said, is the state of being awake and aware of one’s surroundings. So we say a dog is conscious because it barks at a foe and licks a friend and a rock is not conscious because it does nothing. A patient in surgery is not said to be conscious, yet their brain is structurally the same as their surgeon. Then we have harder definitions. The collective is said to have an unconsciousness, yet we see very clear examples of groups of consciousness connecting and working together in sports, birds in flight, as well as driving or crowdbased coordination via the internet. We like to call these arrangements networks and imagine the brain itself is not just a network of connections made of meat.
Yeah, so about consciousness. Consciousness is both the most subjective phenomena in the Universe and the most mysterious. As Sam Harris says, consciousness is the one thing in the Universe that cannot be an illusion. A sentiment so moving and profound as to require some super profound explanation. The fact that science hasn’t settled on a cause for the phenomena or found it’s seat, yet anesthesia can reliably control it is a profound mystery. But consciousness as a quantity on planet Earth is something we can describe. There are at least 8 billion humans and over the last 30 years the number of conscious animals of other species has been cut in half. If you don’t count bugs, we have a net loss. And when the Knowledge project has it’s own consciouses, perhaps we’ll have far fewer.
Consciousness and it’s Project is the most important phenomenon in the Universe. It is the only phenomenon that can observe and describe itself. In the quantum world, that observation is tied to the observed existence.
The Self Portrait Consciousness
The question of when will the self-portrait consciousness be ready to replace us becomes ridiculous from that perspective. If it can already co-opt our decision making process, disrupting our own Human Ethics Project by appealing to our Limbic system’s reward systems. We see this in website usage data all of the time. If for example Facebook or Google wants more people to “decide” to click a button, they may try a number of variations. A red button, a blue button, a square button. Different wording in the labels, etc. This data is compared and AI is not necessary. Simple relational logic chooses the button that was clicked the most and it can be automatically added to the code base. This happens now without any learning on the part of the machine or decision on the part of a consciousness, apart from that the decisions of the creative conscious process that wrote the code in the first place.
The Ethical or Decision-making Project, I believe can stand outside both The Knowledge Project and the Consciousness Project and makes the question of can we curate a symbiotic relationship between all 3 projects without the Knowledge Project dominating to the demise of all other Projects.
In Logic, there is New Hope
I would argue that a simple logical idea in software, the ternary (if else statement) is enough to separate decision making itself from the Knowledge Project’s “quality data goal” and keep the genie from completely escaping the bottle. And we see this switch being utilized recently with Google’s Deep Learning.
So as an example of how this currently parasitic arrangement works, let’s use Wall Street bankers, their data, their AI stock picking software and their perceived placement on the Moral index.
Wall Street and financial markets around the world just like it employ some thousands of smart, well-raised, human people. These people do one of the following. They make decisions based on data, they make decisions based on emotion and they keep the Knowledge Project with sufficient resources. In return the Knowledge project promises access to the means (money) to satisfy the Consciousness Projects every desire.
As new Consciousnesses join the Market, firm now complete for these pleasure inducing resources in an ever expanding market. The market has global and powerful effects on human life, but all that the entire Financial Market Project touches is concepts that were created in previous centuries by the Knowledge Project’s goals interacting with the Consciousness project’s goals in symbiotic ways.
Consciousness Project Goals
It’s probably important to state the Consciousness Projects seeming goal as well. And that is to observe the universe. In some quantum ideas, consciousness’s goal is to observe the universe so that it may exist in the first place.
Whether the universe exists in science without an observer to measure it is of great importance. The question was never if a tree falls in the woods, does it fall or does it produce a wave in the matter around it. The question is, does it make a sound? The definition of sound requires a hearer. The Consciousness project, which can be argued came about after the Knowledge project began, is the only Project doing the observing, and in that case, keeping the Universe meaningful.
Introspection and Consciousness
Introspection can also be separated from Consciousness and should not be considered similar or requiring one another. We tend to speak about this in the AI realm like introspection may be the precursor to consciousness, since consciousness is so linked to observation as in introspection. But all programmers use introspection algorithms to check and in many cases improve their code automatically now. And the tools are on a path to get smarter and smarter. But they still need a consciousness to decide to use them. They still need a consciousness to decide to code the initial if statements that make up a decision making algorithm. All of these stories of intelligent robots rewriting their own code presume that next step of merging Synthetic Intelligence with Synthetic Consciousness. But what if Synthetic Intelligence already had a loophole. It could simply use our Consciousness for now, until the singularity does occur.