Archive for September, 2015

Zombie Conspiracy

September 24, 2015

There are two dimensions to the assertions made by Kurzweil ( the phenomenological and the socio-political. Kurzweil seems to address only the phenomenological issues.

There are two interesting phenomenological questions: Will machines be conscious? Most people get caught up in this question, but it is the less interesting one because we already have an existence proof for consciousness (our own) and it is not a huge extension to propose that this phenomenon will emerge in other intelligent substrates. David Chalmers argues the “Hard Problem” of consciousness and goes on to propose that we should regard consciousness as a phenomenon that is innate in the organisation of matter and energy. This raises the more interesting question is whether it will even be possible to create AI’s that are not conscious. It will be our strong motivation to create AI’s that are not conscious so that we can use them as slaves (as Landis pointed out) and avoid the moral impediments. Does the nature of our cosmos permit the existence of intelligent objects that are not conscious?

It is easy to agree with Kurzweil that “we” (ie the average person) will believe (some) robots to be phenomenologically conscious. Confronted by systems that exhibit all the mental subtlety and capability of a person, some people (probably the majority of people) will likely be convinced that such systems are thinking, feeling and self aware, all the more so if these systems emphatically claim to be conscious. This will likely be true even if such systems are not at all human looking. If they are made to be human looking and acting to the point that they are difficult to physically distinguish from biological humans then the problem may not be to decide if the service professional you are dealing with is conscious, but rather if he/she is human.

On the other hand there will likely be strongly motivated socio-political incentives to deny these systems rights. Landis pointed to one issue very clearly – slavery. We (human society) have in the past, do at present and may in the future allow the enslavement and exploitation of beings we (perhaps secretly) believe to be sentient. Those that profit most from the manufacture and sale of AI systems will likely argue that AI’s and robots seem conscious because they are ingeniously made puppets, designed to create the impression of consciousness and to assert their own consciousness as part of the illusion. In terms of the “Hard Problem” of consciousness, it will not be possible to argue objectively against this proposition.

There will be many and varied perverse grotesqueries that society desires to subject our robot slaves to, and all humans will likely benefit greatly, directly and indirectly. The economic motivation to invest in their creation may be undermined if there are significant impediments to capitalizing on their deployment. Granting them rights, not only will curtail these uses, but may encompass the very process of their manufacture and the engineering of their evolution. The full scale of the complications implicit in granting these systems rights might weigh against them. Kurzweil is famous for his optimism and is not likely to address such concerns but I for one hope that he is right.

Posted to ( on 24/9/2015