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From: Medium

Will an A.I. Ever Become Sentient?

“Sentience” is a word with seriously heavy connotations that also tend to hold different meaning to different people and under differing circumstances.

First, some definitions are in order:

Intelligence: 1 a: the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations. b: the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (as tests) 2: mental acuteness. (Merriam-Webster)

Sentient: 1: responsive to or conscious of sense impressions: sentient beings. 2: aware 3: finely sensitive in perception or feeling (Merriam-Webster)

Biological Intelligence

Dr. John Lilly, a man of many interests, including the bases of human consciousness, found a great deal of inspiration in dolphins as well, devising many experiments to ascertain if dolphins could communicate with humans and vice versa. His work helped prop up the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.

Aside from cetaceans, elephants and great apes have long been subjects of study into their apparently high levels of sentience. Great apes, belonging to the Hominidae family, to which we humans also belong, include gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, and bonobos. There is currently a movement, gathering momentum, to push for rights to be granted to non-human animals. There is another movement focusing on the great apes themselves, which aims to grant them rights on a level currently reserved for people. This status is called “personhood”, and is based on decades of findings in the research of Jane Goodall, Richard Dawkins, and many others.

The “mirror test”, devised by psychologist Gordon Gallup in 1970, anesthetizes an animal, places a mark or sticker on it, and when it wakes it is placed in front of a mirror. If the animal recognizes that the mark is new, it is taken as proof that the animal must also recognize that what it sees in the mirror is “itself”. Most animals, dogs included, tend to react as though what they see is merely an “other”. But the great apes, elephants, and cetaceans have regularly passed the mirror test…

But so has the Eurasian magpie in 2008, and then in 2015, several ant species recognized that a blue dot had been painted on their faces only when seeing themselves in a mirror. Until then, it was thought that the more “evolved” brains of great apes, cetaceans and elephants were the keys to this self-recognition. Now, self-recognition — self-awareness, even — may be due to programming in the brain.

Indeed, the octopus is a corollary to this. In one study, published in Nature in 2015, scientists released their findings when analyzing the octopus genome that clearly shows some astounding results of parallel evolution. Even though octopods are almost as distanced from humans on the evolutionary tree as a species can get, their physical forms and placement in their environmental food chain led over time to similarly complex development of their brains and nervous systems. Living as benthic-zone animals, having to forage for food while avoiding swift predators, proved to be similar in many respects to the hominid evolutionary path which began for humans living on African savannahs. We (and the octopods) had to become smarter in order to survive, and the prehensility offered by hands and tentacles allowed for the means to explore our worlds in various ways.

Artificial Intelligence

The late John McCarthy, a Dartmouth computer scientist, came up with the term in 1955 and organized the first conference around the subject the following year. But the concept had been around for years, most notably in Alan Turing’s musings and his “Turing test”. If a computer is mistaken for a human, by human users, and the results can be repeated and reaffirmed scientifically, during communication sessions held over a computer interface, then the computer “wins” and might be said to be true AI.

There have been numerous claims in recent years that the Turing test has been passed, but these events have occurred using chatbots rather than matching a supercomputer “brain” up with real humans. While chatbots can be coded to seem intelligent, they are extremely limited and are simply programs crafted with that express purpose.

AI and Emotion

Author and Northeastern University neuroscience and psychology professor Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett argues in her book How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain that emotion is a learned concept, shaped by the society in which one’s mind develops. When a child is born, it experiences only sensations that result in pleasure or pain. As s/he grows, interaction with others is what forms the actual concepts of emotion and links those concepts to the biochemical sensations.

This is a theory, and as such open to challenge and is not considered a scientific fact such as “endorphin release produces feelings of elation”. It isn’t a very readily testable concept. In humans, however, we can witness some of this process. It’s easy enough to see the differences between children that grow up under the care of stable and caring parents and children that are not so fortunate. As a foster parent for 5 years, I have witnessed some stark contrasts myself. Nurture most definitely affects the formulation of emotion in a human being.

A company called Affectiva is already offering a product it calls “Emotion AI” to big brands, which uses face recognition technology and deep learning to read the emotional reaction of people to advertising. Affectiva and others are working to help machines actually understand humans on a more intimate level, basically giving them a level of emotional intelligence. This was explored, sometimes to comic effect, by the android character “Data” on the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation, which ran from 1987 through 1994, and in some following movies. He was represented as a highly logical man-made creation who was always curious about human emotion. He eventually was able to install an “emotion chip” which led to numerous situations that examined what it meant to be human.

Read the whole story: Medium

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