(click on photograph to enlarge)
I was walking along a country road and I came upon this scene picture above. The picture really does no justice to the rolling hils, the lines, folds and textures as well as the light and dark areas. As you eye takes in the panorama in real life, you realize that it is a magical place that makes you feel numinous.
And right in front of me, was a guy with a huge piece of paper, trying to capture the scene with a charcoal sketch in preparation for a painting. The back of his VW stationwagon was lifted open and sketches were scattered all over the car. I peeked at his sketches, and we started talking.
As it turned out, he was from Australia, an ex-computer engineer, a mainframe guy who was now an artist and had been for over 20 years. He earns his living with his art.
We got to talking about stuff, computers and such, and the magnificent scene in front of us, and the impossibility of reproducing and how it made us both feel numinous and from there we got on to consciousness.
I brought up the topic that Ray Kurzweil had predicted a machine with a soul with his book "The Age of A Spiritual Machine". My new-friend begged to differ, citing that we really didn't know what consciousness was, so how could we emulate or even create it on doped silicon.
I wanted to beg to differ with the artist. My own neural nets tell me that consciousness is an over-developed tropism. Plants started it with phototropism for the leaves and geotropism for the roots, and after several hundred million years of evolution gone wild, the tropisms developed into senses, the brain evolved to process the sensory stimuli and it didn't stop. We developed the ability to abstract, to think, and to integrate the sensory data to knowledge and preserve and pass it on to our species.
This got me to thinking about how a primitive artificial consciousness would be formulated in a computer. We already have the prototypes with QoS circuits in servers monitored Quality of Service. We have a heartbeat, plus all sorts of monitors that read and report on processes, cycles, peripherals, services and such. Right now, these QoS circuits report to humans. They would have to report to the machine itself. And the machine would have to react to them.
How it reacts is the tricky part. In humans, we react to our sensory input by abstracting it to a higher plane. If for example, our heart skips a beat, we start worrying about a heart attack. What it means for machine consciousness, is that the data integration into information and finally stringing information into knowledge has to be developed. As a further step, knowledge must be abstracted into an ideal that can be applied to many other things. For example, any child knows the following ideal:
Using this ideal, a child can match the above to this:
And with even a bit of cogitation, a child can match the abstract with this:
So, just to recap to this point, a computer would need sensory inputs from everything about itself, hardware and software, and then it would need some powerful inference tools to sort the Big Data from its sensors into information, and from there in knowledge and from there, into an abstract ideal, or an interface if you will, in programming language.
We haven't touched the world outside the computer yet. But we are not done. Once we have the knowledge bits, we need some emotions bits if we are to match the human experience. I'm not saying that we really need that. The computer conscious could be a Spock-on-steroids who has no emotions, but that wouldn't be fun, would it?
Emotions need qualitative judgements and reactions to those qualitative judgements. In a human being, if we are worried, our performance is impaired. If we were to match this in a machine, worry would spawn threads that would impair performance based on whether the machine was bummed out or not. But how would a machine express happiness? Would it be by innocuous things like playing mp3s when it should be doing floating point co-processing?
My Australian friend said that we would never develop Artificial Consciousness. Moi, I say that what I have brought up are mere details. There will be frameworks upon frameworks that will give the computer a good idea of what is going on, how the computer should react, and that there is a whole other world outside the binary bits and bytes of the doped Gallium Arsenide matrices and PNP and NPN junctions in its transistor neurons. It's a scary thought when a computer first comes to the realization of an outside world, but damn, it would be exciting. More to come.