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Could artificial intelligence have consciousness? Some perspectives from neurology and parapsychology

Abstract

The possibility of AI consciousness depends much on the correct answer to the mind–body problem: how our materialistic brain generates subjective consciousness? If a materialistic answer is valid, machine consciousness must be possible, at least in principle, though the actual instantiation of consciousness may still take a very long time. If a non-materialistic one (either mentalist or dualist) is valid, machine consciousness is much less likely, perhaps impossible, as some mental element may also be required. Some recent advances in neurology (despite the separation of the two hemispheres, our brain as a whole is still able to produce only one conscious agent; the negation of the absence of a free will, previously thought to be established by the Libet experiments) and many results of parapsychology (on medium communications, memories of past lives, near-death experiences) suggestive of survival after our biological death, strongly support the non-materialistic position and hence the much lower likelihood of AI consciousness. Instead of being concern about AI turning conscious and machine ethics, and trying to instantiate AI consciousness soon, we should perhaps focus more on making AI less costly and more useful to society.

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Notes

  1. Consciousness is used in its commonsense sense, perhaps well described as ‘inner qualitative, subjective states, and processes of sentience or awareness’ (Searle 2000, p. 559).

  2. Thus, ‘if that machine somehow becomes sentient, with preferences and the drive to achieve them—or conscious, with a sense of self and of the future, the ingredients for ambition—then it is deeply threatening to us’ (Donath 2020, p. 17). However, conscious AI may also be less dangerous to humans by having empathy (Davies 2016).

  3. On the reverse question of machine ethics (towards humans and other machines), see Nath & Sahu (2020); on ethics guidelines for AI regulation, see Hoffmann & Hahn (2019); on artificial morality and human–robot interaction, see Misselhorn (2020).

  4. On the relevance of the mind–body problem and the importance of consciousness for AI issues, see Andreotta (2020). In particular, ‘AI rights is disanalogous from animal rights in an important respect: animal rights can proceed without a solution to the ‘Hard Problem’ of consciousness. Not so with AI rights’ (Abstract).

  5. The present author, originally a hard-core materialist, still largely believes in evolution after conversion to non-materialism after acquaintance to the wealth of evidence against simple materialism. However, he doubts the possibility of the emergence of mind after just 14 billion years since the Big Bang if that occurred naturally. For further discussions, see Ng (2019, 2021).

  6. Nearly two centuries ago, Wigan (1844) believed that even normal persons without brain-splitting have two separate spheres of consciousness. Schechter (2018) believes that each of the two minds under split-brain subjects is still ‘one of us’.

  7. Downey also argues that split-brain subjects unify their perceptual field by using external factors including cueing.

  8. The non-materialist position is also consistent with the fact that all five main features of consciousness (qualitativeness, subjectivity, unity, intentionality, intentional causation) are unexplained (Searle 2013).

  9. Admittedly, a Nobel prize does not ensure the absence of mistakes; see, e.g. Basterfield et al. (2020).

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Ng, YK. Could artificial intelligence have consciousness? Some perspectives from neurology and parapsychology. AI & Soc (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00146-021-01305-x

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Keywords

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Consciousness
  • Machines
  • Mind
  • Neurology
  • Parapsychology