PPIG: Philosophy, Psychology, and Informatics Group

Speaker: Henry Shevlin (Cambridge/Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence)

Title: When the machine wakes — problems and prospects for assessing AI consciousness

Abstract: In June this year, a Google engineer named Blake Lemoine claimed that an artificial system named LaMDA showed signs of consciousness. While many experts (and his employers) were quick to pour cold water on his assertions, we have good reason to expect there will be many more such claims made in the years ahead. How should we assess them? In this talk, I provide a high-level overview of how I believe philosophers and cognitive scientists should respond to this fascinating period in the history of human-AI interactions. I make three main claims. First, I offer a moderately pessimistic assessment of the state of consciousness science: while progress is being made, and the questions being asked are good ones, there is still too much methodological and metaphysical agreement to expect any clear scientific verdicts about questions of AI consciousness in the near term. Second, I note that trends in the development of AI make it extremely likely that it will become increasingly common for users to (rightly or wrongly) attribute conscious mental states to artificial systems, making total agnosticism about AI consciousness from experts an unhelpful response. Finally, I suggest some ways in which experts can respond to this impasse, namely by identifying broad “ecumenical heuristics” to aid in the assessment of artificial consciousness and by looking to existing animal welfare laws to scaffold debates about “robot rights”.

Further information

We are a group of researchers from diverse backgrounds in the above-mentioned groups (and beyond) who aim to gain an interdisciplinary yet deep understanding of the threads that bind the human mind and the world. In particular, this seminar series focuses on the nature of cognition, metacognition and social cognition. We’ll be tackling questions such as, what does it mean to think? What does it mean to think about thinking? And, what does it mean to think about one’s own thinking versus thinking about the thinking of other people? Please come along!

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Contact details

Tillmann Vierkant

Nov 02 2022 -

PPIG: Philosophy, Psychology, and Informatics Group

2022-11-02: When the machine wakes — problems and prospects for assessing AI consciousness

Online via Zoom invitation