Friday, June 19, 2015

Why Would an AI System Need Phenomenal Consciousness?

In my last post on Jesse Prinz, we learned about the distinction between immediate, phenomenal awareness in consciousness in contrast to our more deliberative consciousness that operates with the contents of short term and longer term memory.  From moment to moment in our experience, there are mental contents in our awareness.  Not all of those contents make it into the global workspace and become available to reflective, deliberative thought, memory, or other cognitive functions.  That is, there are contents in phenomenal awareness that are experienced, and then they are just lost.  They cease to be anything to you, or part of the continuous narrative of experience that you reconstruct in later moments because they never make it to the neural processes that would capture them and make them available to you at later times.  

We also know that these contents of phenomenal consciousness are also most closely associated with the qualitative feels from our sensory periphery.  That is, phenomenal awareness is filled with the smells, tastes, colors, feels, and sounds of our sensory inputs.  Phenomenal awareness is filled with what some philosophers call qualia. 

Let me add to this account and see what progress we can make on the question of building a conscious AI system. 


Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky got the Nobel Prize for their work uncovering what they call Dual Process Theory in the human mind.  We possess a set of quick, sloppy cognitive functions called System 1, and a more careful, slower more deliberative set of functions called System 2.  


System 1
System 2
Unconscious reasoning
Conscious reasoning
Judgments based on intuition
Judgments based on critical examination
Processes information quickly
Processes information slowly
Hypothetical reasoning
Logical reasoning
Large capacity
Small capacity
Prominent in animals and humans
Prominent only in humans
Unrelated to working memory
Related to working memory
Operates effortlessly and automatically
Operates with effort and control
Unintentional thinking
Intentional thinking
Influenced by experiences, emotions, and memories
Influenced by facts, logic, and evidence
Can be overridden by System 2
Used when System 1 fails to form a logical/acceptable conclusion
Prominent since human origins
Developed over time
Includes recognition, perception, orientation, etc.
Includes rule following, comparisons, weighing of options, etc.

In short, System 1 makes gains in speed for what it sacrifices in accuracy, and System 2 gives up speed for a reduction in errors. 

The evolutionary influences that led to this bifurcation are fairly widely agreed upon.  System 1 gets us out of difficulties when action has to be taken immediately so we don’t get crushed by a falling boulder, fall from the edge of a precipice, eaten by a charging predator, or smacked in the head by a flying object.  But when time and circumstance allows for rational deliberation, we can think things through, make longer term plans, strategize, problem solve, and so on. 

An AI system, depending on its purpose, need not be similarly constrained.  An AI system may not need to have both sets of functions.  And the medium of construction of an AI system may not require tradeoffs to such an extent.  Transmission time for conduction across neural cells is about 150 meters per second.  By the time the information about the baseball that is flying at you gets through your optic nerve, through the V1 visual cortex, and up to the pre-frontal lobe for serious contemplation, the ball has already hit you in the head.  Transmission time for silicon circuitry is effectively the speed of light.  We may not have to give up accuracy for speed to such an extent.  Evolution favored false positives over false negatives in the construction of many systems.  It’s better to mistake a boulder for a bear, as they say, than a bear for a boulder.  A better safe than sorry strategy is more favorable to your contribution to the gene pool for the species in many cases.  We need not give up accuracy for speed with AI systems, and we need not construct them to make the systematic errors we do. 

The neural processes that are monitoring the multitude of inputs from my sensory periphery are hidden from the view of my conscious awareness.  The motor neurons that fire, the sodium ions that traverse the cell membranes, the neurotransmitters that cross the synaptic gaps when I move my arm are not events that I can see, or detect in any fashion as neural events.  I experience them as the sensation of my arm moving.  From my perspective, moving my arm feels one way.  But the neural chemical events that are physically responsible are not available to me as neural chemical events.  A particular amalgam of neural-chemical events from my perspective tastes like sweetness, or hurts like a pin prick, or looks like magenta.  It would appear that evolution stumbled upon this sort of condensed, shorthand monitoring system to make fast work of categorizing certain classes of phenomenal experience for quick reference and response.  If the physical system in humans is capable of producing qualia that are experiencable from the subject’s point of view (It’s important to note that whether qualia are even real things is a hotly debated question  


then presumably a physical AI system could be built that generates them too.  Not even the fiercest epiphenomenalist, or modern property dualist denies mind/brain dependence.  But a legitimate question is, do we want or need to build an AI system with them?  What would be the purpose, aside from intellectual curiosity, of building qualia into an AI system?  If AI systems can be better designed than the systems that evolution built, and if AI systems need not be constrained by the tradeoffs, processing speed limitations, or other compromises that led to the particular character of human consciousness, then why put them in there? 







1 comment:

David Conklin said...

There's no such thing as "unconscious reasoning" because when one is unconscious one if "out of it." They meant "subconscious reasoning."