Awareness and Free Will (for AI)

This entry is Part 6 of the Mind series.

In Part 5 I described how it is theoretically possible to model intelligence by observing its emergence from within a digitally-simulated universe. The cybernetic model thus produced would eventually accumulate a near-infinite number of logic steps, which would produce an empirical model of consciousness (if-then logic) that would most likely bear some resemblance to the Constructal Pattern.

Yet, there is more to consciousness than binary logic. An AI with enough logic steps and decision-making ability might have enough information to become self-aware, but it wouldn’t necessarily have the will or the inclination to do so.

A logic-based AI could never make independent decisions, raise questions, or demonstrate spontaneous behavior. It would have no motivation to ask questions like, “What is the nature of my own existence?”, without receiving explicit instruction to do so. If logic-based intelligence is not issued a definite command, then it has nothing to act on — null input produces null output… Which isn’t “life”. Dreams and other illogical things have a way of keeping us sane; without them, we wouldn’t be human. So if we really want to reach the Singularity and build Strong AI (i.e. replicate human consciousness In Silico), then we need to account for not only the straight lines of logic, but also for the meandering flows of feeling, chance, and intuition.

Binary Refined

Creating virtual intelligence is not something we want to mess up. So rather than creating some form of intelligence that lacks emotion and is rooted in binary decision-making ability only, let’s get it right the first time — let’s create something like us. That should be the goal of all AI research – to understand human consciousness – not merely to reduce it to straightforward logic.

To accomplish this, we could present AI with a constant stream of “random” inputs to increase its variance – basically, let its mind wander by providing it with permutations of its own thoughts, which might grant it something of a “subconscious”.

More variance could be introduced by making the AI choose between a number of possible outputs for any given input. The ensuing spontaneity might create the functional equivalent of free will.[1] Also, to add structure to what otherwise might be random variance of little consequence, what if these decisions were influenced by the input stream in the form of environmental feedback? What I’m trying to describe is essentially an echo chamber of thought, which is what consciousness may well be. Given enough random inputs, feedback loops, and complexity, the machine’s behavior could never be fully predicted – it would have free will.[2] Thus, spontaneous behavior (i.e. free will) can be written as binary instruction. The only requirements are an extensive ruleset and a constant stream of random inputs[3]. The logic would come from the AI research discussed in Part 5. The input stream, or randomized environmental feedback, might be generated using cellular automata or genetic algorithms.[4] Still, this is a markedly different way of achieving consciousness. Creating life from pure logic may turn out to be a difficult or impossible task.

Before this series concludes with Part 7, you may want to check out this forum thread, where I discuss Earth’s humanitarian responsibilities leading up to the Singularity. I think people tend to get distracted by abstract notions of the Singularity and machine intelligence, and forget about the things right in front of them… “We don’t want to invest in such distant futures that we forget about the present.” As important as exponential change is, we also need to keep it in perspective.

Next entry: Universal Duality

Table of Contents

  1. Six Blind Men and an Elephant – “All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree.”
  2. The Physics of Consciousness – Consciousness explained in terms of electromagnetism and information.
  3. The Holographic Universe – The behavior of photons may indicate that we live in a holographic universe.
  4. Simulation Theory – How to emulate consciousness on a computer by allowing it to evolve from scratch.
  5. Artificial Intelligence – How to create self-aware, free-willing artificial intelligence.
  6. Awareness and Free Will – How free will can arise from binary decision-making (i.e. pure logic).
  7. Universal Duality – The interaction between structure and randomness is fundamental to the universe.
Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. If the AI had an innumerable number of choices – so many that any given input corresponded to a near-infinite number of probabilistic outcomes, then its behavior would appear to be completely random.
  2. This is similar to how Stephen Wolfram describes free will in his book A New Kind of Science.
  3. Or, an “entropy generator”
  4. Of course, the balance between random inputs and logic needs to be carefully controlled. Consciousness is ultimately the balancing of extremes: Logic vs spontaneity. Too much in either direction and the system becomes unstable.

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