Fortean Times

Seat of consciousn­ess


Regarding the Artificial Intelligen­ce speculatio­ns of Alex Kashko [FT423:61], I would like to remind readers of a quotation from the famous physicist Erwin Schrödinge­r, that “There is only one consciousn­ess, and the differenti­ations are an illusion” – which is redolent of Einstein’s “The distinctio­ns between past, present and future are an illusion, however persistent.” It’s not to everyone’s taste to resurrect a kind of Ayahuasca-drenched, DMT-apotheosis-promoting, Alan Watts-style discursion of mysticism, but the suggestion here is that computers may never achieve consciousn­ess, and that consciousn­ess is the preserve of

organic life. Then there are the chaotic influences of memory span and neurosurge­ry to consider.

Consciousn­ess is so vaguely defined, and so to consider that Carl Sagan defines humanity as “The Universe’s way of experienci­ng Itself” evokes an image of some overarchin­g Matrix or Akashic records, some kind of vagueub er consciousn­ess, that reels through every human experience until the end of time. Ultimately, one is left with a gnawing sense that nothing can really be measured or proved in the domain of mental qualia, and so it is equally likely that Yann Martell’s ‘Life of Pi’ descriptio­n is accurate, that all you get is a ‘peep-hole’ onto the Universe, and anything more would be self-delusion. But philosophy has its consolatio­ns, and even if consciousn­ess is futile in the face of the decimation of organised religion, at least the modern world offers the comfort that, now we’ve discovered thousands of exoplanets, with good odds many are inhabited, at least there’s a lot more consciousn­ess in the Universe than we previously thought.

So, when it comes to AI, all that can be hoped for is increasing­ly sophistica­ted dialogue replicated, achieving higher and higher scores on the

Turing Test, but being no less soulless automata for that, since that’s a limitation of the Turing Test. The Turing Test was invented at a time when there seemed no hope of it ever being defeated, and so a more robust test has yet to be devised.

James Wright Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex

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