These engineers want to build conscious robots. Others say it’s a bad idea.

These engineers want to build conscious robots. Others say it’s a bad idea.

These engineers want to build conscious robots. Others say it's a bad idea.

Was it really conscious, though?

The risk of engaging in a theory of consciousness is that it opens up the possibility of critique. Sure, self-awareness seems important, but aren’t there other key characteristics of consciousness? Can we call something conscious if it doesn’t seem conscious to us?

Dr. Chella believes that consciousness cannot exist without language and has developed robots capable of forming internal monologues, reasoning for themselves and reflecting on the things they see around them. One of his robots was recently able to recognize himself in a mirror, passing what is probably the most famous test of animal self-awareness.

Joshua Bongard, a roboticist at the University of Vermont and former member of the Creative Machines Lab, believes that consciousness is not just about cognition and mental activity, but has an essentially bodily aspect. He developed beings called xenobots, made entirely of frog cells linked together so that a programmer could control them like machines. According to Dr. Bongard, it’s not just that humans and animals have evolved to adapt to their environment and interact with each other; our tissues have evolved to serve these functions, and our cells have evolved to serve our tissues. “What we are are smart machines made of smart machines made of smart machines, all the way,” he said.

This summer, around the same time Dr. Lipson and Dr. Chen released their new robot, a Google engineer claimed that the company’s newly improved chatbot, called LaMDA, was self-aware and deserved to be treated like a small child. This claim was met with skepticism, primarily because, as Dr. Lipson noted, the chatbot was processing “code that is written to perform a task.” There was no underlying structure of consciousness, other researchers said, only the illusion of consciousness. Dr Lipson added: “The robot was not self-aware. It’s a bit like cheating. »

But with so many disagreements, who’s to say what counts as cheating?

Eric Schwitzgebel, a philosophy professor at the University of California, Riverside, who has written about artificial consciousness, said the problem with this general uncertainty is that at the rate things are progressing, humanity will likely develop a robot that many people think they are conscious before we agree on the criteria of consciousness. When this happens, should rights be granted to the robot? Freedom? Should it be programmed to feel happiness when it serves us? Will he be allowed to speak for himself? Vote?

(Such questions have fueled an entire science fiction subgenre in books by writers like Isaac Asimov and Kazuo Ishiguro and TV shows like “Westworld” and “Black Mirror.”)


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