Intelligence and Consciousness

Ongoing arguments about Artificial Intelligence employ foggy definitions.  What is intelligence?  What are we?  Will our smarter and smarter computers achieve consciousness?  Will they endanger or replace us? 

Intelligence is pattern recognition.   One might even claim that life itself, starting with DNA, is based on chemical or instinctual intelligence.  Which nucleic acid fits next?  Animals develop instincts to recognize dangerous or favorable patterns and act on them.  Humans are the most ingenious and flexible of all life in finding patterns _ some provably false _ in their universe and using them to control the future.  If a rock falls, we predict it will end up inert in a lower place.  If the stars align in a certain way, we may believe fortune favors our actions.  We recognize partial patterns and seek to fit them into known larger patterns to predict our future.  Those most capable of discovering and verifying new true patterns are hailed as the most intelligent. 

There is more to consciousness than intelligence.  Does consciousness require life? 

This is not a simple question.  The consciousness we know _ human and animal _ is embedded in a biologic matrix.  We drift in a chemical bath of hormones and synapses.  You and I are each unique, but we are also supremely tuned machines of survival.  Surely all that wetware provides more than just a nice platform for dry intelligence.  We know of idiot savants who can perform mathematic miracles, but are unable to find their way home or prepare dinner.

Computers are increasingly capable of discovering patterns.  Not only that, but they are becoming extremely good at recognizing big patterns from smaller ones.  A certain arrangement of shadows and colors can lead them to identify an individual within a stored database.  Deep learning allows them to find interconnections previously invisible to humans.  In that sense, artificial intelligence is already present and growing more capable each day.

Consciousness, however, involves being a universe.  Full recognition of all that is around, how it relates to me,  what I should do to improve my moment.  Flitting thoughts, imagination, fear, happiness.  My beautiful integration is only slightly connected to intelligence.  Our motivations are subtle, complex, contradictory, and sometimes stupid and devoid of intelligent thought.  Consciousness is a complex of motivation, evaluation, satisfaction and edited remembrance, all leading to integration into a personal and social matrix which helps assure a drive to survive and reproduce. 

No doubt a computer can follow instructions, including those to survive and reproduce.  The core problem is “what constrains it?”  Humans are adapted into built-in cultural limits, shaped by animal desires,  socially remarkable.  And each human is an uncharted self-aware entity,  immersed in the environment.  Those who worry about Artificial Intelligence  believe that simple instructions to “survive and multiply” will not create consciousness, but rather an unconstrained stupid machine savant that will wreck everything. 

We know we can create things of immense destructive power _ witness the atomic bomb  Whether an AI computer has any more “soul” or consciousness than such a device is my worry.  Can a digital device ever appreciate beauty or rejoice in its being alive?

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