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On Sentience and AI

A comment on this article in the Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2022/06/google-engineer-sentient-ai-chatbot/661273

Sean Prophet, I am certain that the current generation of software is not sentient and my understanding is that it may in fact be impossible to assemble any sentient device. This is not, as you claim with certitude, based on unsupportable hubris and fear, but on decades of deep contemplation and discussion about the nature of consciousness, information, and matter. My view is unique but informed by the ideas of many, many philosophers, scientists, mystics, and mathematicians throughout human history.

I do not worry about machines replacing humans. I’m not particularly fond of humans en masse, but I recognize that humans are responsible for many of the best and only a few of the worst things about the world that we now live in – including computers.

My journey has gone from seeing the world through the lens of atheistic materialism to psychedelic spiritualism, to Neoplatonic monotheism, to what I call Multisense Realism. I think that reality is ultimately a kind of art gallery that experiences itself – a self-diffracting, cosmopsychic Holos of aesthetic-participatory phenomena in which anesthetic-automatic appearances are rendered as lensing artifacts: Lorentz-like perceptual transforms that make conscious experience on one timescale seem like ‘matter’ or ‘information’ to consciousness on another timescale. We are not ‘data’. We are not information-processing systems or material-energetic bodies. Both of those are appearances within the real world of authentic, and direct (if highly filtered) perception.

It’s my understanding that because machines are assembled from tangible parts and intangible rules, they are not like the bodies of natural objects. They have not evolved inevitably as tangible symptoms of a trans-tangible experiential phenomenon but have been devised and deployed by the ‘inside’ appearance of one type of conscious experience onto the ‘outside’ appearance of another. In our case, our AI efforts are deployed on geochemical substrates by an anthropological-zoological consciousness, using matter as a vehicle to reflect an inverted image of our own most superficial intellectual but most sophisticated dimensions of sense-making.

I know this sounds over the top, and to be honest, I’m not really writing this to be understood by people who are not fluent in the deep currents of philosophy of mind and computation. I’m no longer qualified to talk about this stuff to a general audience. My views pick up where conventional views of this historical moment leave off. You have to have already accepted the hard problem of consciousness and questioned panpsychism to open the door that my worldview is behind.

Anyhow, while we are on diametrically opposite sides of this issue Sean, I know with certainty that it is not for the reasons that you think and project onto (at least some of) us. I have not really run into many fans of human beings who are terrified of losing their specialness. That is a stereotype that I do not find pans out in reality. Instead, I find a dichotomy between a group of highly educated, highly intelligent men on the extreme systemizing end of the systemizing-empathizing (I call cohesive-adhesive) spectrum of consciousness, without much theory of mind skill falling into a trap of their own hubris while a mostly unwitting public with neither the time nor interest to care about the subject – but when forced to, they intuitively know that machines aren’t literally conscious, but can’t explain why.

I think that I have explained why, although it is spread out over thousands of pages of conversations and essays. For anyone who wants to follow that trail of breadcrumbs, here’s a place to start.

https://multisenserealism.com/?s=ai+is+inside+out

  1. June 15, 2022 at 3:51 pm

    Well said. It was the “brain made of meat” note by Lemoine that sort of immediately gave the game away for me. Who wrote that story? The one with the AI-aliens curious about humans they were prodding, who, strangely, were made entirely of meat?

    I think Iain McGilchrist may have the clearest understanding of this phenomenon, where (typically) men like Lemoine or Prophet are so highly identified with their left-hemispheric view of the world that they seem blind to their inner absence or spaciousness. Who in their right mind (little pun there, haha) could think that a robot was conscious? It’s just so … dumb, sorry to say. Sort of embarrassing, like falling in love with a mannequin — which of course, as Bogost wrote, we do! But to not have a sense of humor about that, to not get the joke … yikes.

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