Consciousness & AI

We are in the midst of a technological civilization or culture the consequences of which at long range are unpredictable; a future where technological growth could become uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unforeseeable changes to human civilization. This conditioning would bring about an ‘explosion’ in intelligence resulting in a powerful superintelligence that qualitatively far surpasses all human intelligence. This change or event has been called a ‘technological singularity’, as a result of which, it is stipulated, the human race could not continue.

What follows is an exchage on the ‘Quora’ forum from Oct. 2015 – anticipating today’s current concerns by over 7 years. The question asked was: “Could the technological singularity occur without computers ever becoming conscious?” And the following are comments by David Eager (Zen seeker, metaphysical tweaker) and myself.

David Eager: In fact, the technological singularity of non-self-conscious computers has already come and gone. Already computers can store, retrieve, compute, and to some degree analyze data far more comprehensively and much more rapidly than is possible for the human mind. To date, they do all this without any kind of self-awareness. So, that part of the singularity has long been achieved. Most futurists believe, however, that the real singularity will only be achieved when computers become self-aware. That is to say when they become conscious of themselves.

In that sense, the answer to your question is no. Technological singularity cannot occur unless and until computers become self-aware, that is, conscious of themselves.

Martin: Computers can never become independently, or dependently, conscious. Consciousness is an altogether different order of magnitude.

David: While I would heartily agree that true consciousness is most certainly an infinitely different order of magnitude I would argue that simple self-awareness is not the consciousness of which we speak and that it may yet be possible to impart simple self-awareness to a computer. All it really needs for that is an ego, the greatest barrier to true consciousness known to man.

Martin: You put the finger on the spot: the ego is a real conundrum at the root of all sorts of interpretations from psychology, philosophy (metaphysics), and theology. True, a school of thought within Advaita Vedanta considers the ego (jiva) as reflected Consciousness, thus multiple – and there are good arguments for this position – while another maintains that Consciousness is one and undivided: thoughts, volitions, desires arising seemingly in your individual mind do so in fact in Consciousness. Everything arises, abides, and disappears in Consciousness, the only reality according to Advaita Vedanta. I tend to agree with this last view – when there is sufficient comprehension, mind is reducible to, not different from, Consciousness. The corollary is that there is only one Subject, rather than a multiplicity of subjects. Thus, if there is only Consciousness, computers, etc. are all phenomena ‘within’ it. Metaphysical intuition alone – another name for ‘mystical’ or unitary vision – is capable of such comprehension.

David: I’m with you all the way, and particularly as regards the Vedas which I consider the original source of all mankind’s knowledge. I see the universe as a hologram, each particle containing all the information of the whole, and tend to use the term cosmic consciousness, that which is being and within which all is transformative phenomena, to differentiate it from lesser ‘awarenesses’ that so distract most of mankind.

Martin Thanks. We are in full agreement then. I have been reading one of the two books on the VEDAS I have: ‘Why Read Rig Veda?’, by R.L. Kashyap; the other one is ‘The Vedas’, by Sri Chandrasekharendra, which I have yet to start reading (sometime, hopefully). Do you recommend any other sources? Lesser awareness would correspond to reflected consciousness of Advaita, which clearly is related to, or caused by, a belief in being a separate consciousness, a separate individual.