Can Effort Be Simulated?

January 12, 2019 Leave a comment Go to comments

This may seem like an odd question, but I think that it is a great one if you’re thinking about AI and the hard problem of consciousness.

Let’s say I want my dishwasher to feel the sense of effort that I feel when I wash dishes. How would I do it? It could make groaning noises or seem to procrastinate by refusing to turn on for days on end, but this would be completely pointless from a practical perspective and it would only seem like effort in my imagination. In reality, any machine can be made to perform any function that it is able to do for as long as the physical parts hold up without any effort on anyone’s part. That’s why they are machines. That’s why we replace human labor with robot labor…because it’s not really labor at all.

It is very popular to think of human beings as a kind of machine and the brain as a kind of computer, but imagine if that were really true. You could wash dishes for your entire lifetime and do nothing else. If someone wanted a house, you could simply build it for them. Machines are useful precisely because they don’t have to try to do anything. They have no sense of effort. They don’t care what they do or don’t do.

You might say, “There’s nothing special about that. Biological organisms just evolved to have this sense of effort to model physiological limits.” Ok, but what possible value would that have to survival? Under what circumstances would it serve an organism to work less than the maximum that it could physiologically? Any consideration such as conserving energy for the Winter would naturally be rolled into the maximum allowed by the regulatory systems of the body.

So, I say no. Effort cannot be simulated. Effort is not equal to energy or time. It is a feeling which is so powerful that it dictates everything that we are able to do and unable to do. Effort is a telltale sign of consciousness. If we could sleep while we do the dishes, we would, because we would not have to feel the discomfort of expending effort to do it.

Any computer, AI, or robot that would be useful to us could not possibly have a sense of its own efforts as being difficult. Once we understand how a sense of effort is truly antithetical to machine behaviors, perhaps we can then begin to see why consciousness in general cannot be simulated. How would an AI that has no sense of not wanting to do the dishes every be able to truly understand what activities are pleasurable and what are painful?

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