Some smart people, from Bill Gates to Stephen Hawkings, have been raising the alarm that computers might get so intelligent that they could conquer the human race. But artificial intelligence specialist David W. Buchanan explains why this isn’t something we need to worry about, saying the alarmists are committing the “consciousness fallacy,” confusing intelligence with consciousness.
From David W. Buchanan, No, the robots are not going to rise up and kill you – The Washington Post:
Intelligence is the ability to analyze the world and reason about it in a way that enables more effective action. Our scientific understanding of intelligence is relatively advanced. There is still an enormous amount of work to do before we can create comprehensive, human-caliber intelligence. But our understanding is viable in the sense that there are real businesses that make money by creating AI.
Consciousness is a much different story, perhaps because there is less money in it. Consciousness is also a harder problem: While most of us would agree that we know consciousness when we see it, scientists can’t really agree on a rigorous definition, let alone a research program that would uncover its basic mechanisms. The best definitions capture the idea that consciousness grounds our experiences and our awareness. Certainly consciousness is necessary to be “someone,” rather than just “something.” There is some good science on consciousness, and some progress has been made, but there is still a very long way to go.
It is tempting to conflate something that we understand better with something we hardly understand at all, and scientists are not immune to this temptation. There is also the chauvinism of people who are smart for a living. To the professors, research scientists and engineers working on AI, intelligence is obviously the most impressive thing about being human. If we build the most impressive thing, of course the less impressive things will follow. But this ignores other qualities of humanity — empathy, hope, love — that may be at least as important. If we think that intelligence is sufficient, then we will be constantly thinking that consciousness is just around the next bend.