This week I began exchanging emails with an author who is writing a series of novels based on humanity's march towards the future.
One of the major events in the story is the emergence of a conscious AI. This process is presented from the point of view of the newly conscious entity, an approach that I find to be a wonderfully intriguing and novel concept. The process of becoming self-aware from the first-person perspective is certainly uncharted waters... even we humans cannot recall how or when we first became conscious as small infants. I have often tried to imagine what subjective experience would be like for a non-human intellect, both lower orders of intelligence (animal) and higher, more developed orders. I'm sure it must be very challenging to try to capture and describe that experience using human language and concepts. The small sample included in his most recent email has made me even more eager to read the story when it is completed.
He suggests that the key to subjective experience is likely the realization that the individual is separate and distinct from the rest of the environment, and I would be inclined to agree. He referenced a pdf slideshow by Owen Holland titled Machine Consciousness and Creativity. The central theme is that it is not the 'self,' but rather the 'internal model' of the self that is the conscious entity. If this is truly the case, it would fit well with the evolutionary development of consciousness (in that the capacity to accurately model future events would provide a strategic advantage in the 'survivial of the fittest' arms race), as well as cause a shift or refocus in AI research. It would seem that a conscious mind is more of a 'universal prediction engine' as opposed to a 'universal reaction engine.' So we might say that it would be impossible for a conscious entity to know what to do in every situation (or to program a machine for every possible circumstance), so instead we have developed the ability to predict possible outcomes and act accordingly. Interestingly, it is the ability to predict outcomes and formulate courses of action which is something IBM's Deep Blue has shown a remarkable aptitude for. Not that I am suggesting that a chess program is conscious, but if a machine was developed that was able to similarly model a much broader sample of reality, we might be much closer to accomplishing that goal.