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With Emerging AI Consciousness Comes The Peril Of AI Rights: Think It’s Time To Worry?

The mystery of whether machines can ever be conscious is a hot topic. Although today’s AI technology isn’t conscious, some believe AI consciousness could be possible in the near future.  The question arises: Is consciousness born from complex calculations, or is it a purely human experience that cannot be replicated in machines? The debate continues.

In this article, I’ll delve into AI consciousness and its potential impact on ethics. Specifically, let’s consider if AI merits special moral considerations or rights. So, this discussion will four key areas: 1) AI mimicking human behavior, 2) AI consciousness versus human consciousness, 3) Can AI fully mimic human consciousness, and 4) should AI have similar rights to humans. Undoubtedly, this quest to uncover the nature of consciousness is a fascinating one!

“The greatest human quest is to know what one must do in order to become a human being.”

Immanuel Kant

1. Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) Mimicking The Human Mind.

A hard look at AI consciousness

Typically, when we are having discussions about AI and consciousness, we are talking about Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). AGI is defined as:

“the intelligence of a machine that can understand or learn any intellectual task that a human being can.”

Obviously, this type of intelligence does not necessarily make AGI human. However, artificial intelligence, especially Large Language Model (LLM) AI, is getting better each day at mimicking human behavior. But again, AI imitating human behavior does not make it human.  For instance, one thing that is unique about a human mind is that it can think both by manipulating symbols and using non-symbolic experiences. On the other hand, AI computer programs are digital and can only manipulate symbols at this time. Furthermore, there are many other differences between AI and humans, but the number of differences are shrinking. For more detailed discussion on this topic, see TowardDataScience’s  Artificial Consciousness Is Impossible.

2. AI Consciousness Vs. Human Consciousness.

Now, let’s focus on comparing human consciousness to AI consciousness. First, below are some definitions as a basis for discussion:

Human consciousness is the awareness and perception of the self and the environment. Specifically, it encompasses the ability to experience feelings, thoughts, and emotions.” 

Artificial consciousness is only the awareness and perception of a machine or a software program.”

Alas, I have attempted to keep these definitions simple for sake of discussion, but there are many schools of thought on what even human consciousness is exactly. At the same time, we all intuitively know what human consciousness is because we are human. We actually experience consciousness even if It is hard to describe it. Worse for this discussion, it is even harder to define what AI consciousness is exactly and then compare it with human consciousness. Mainly, this is because we view human conscience in the first person versus with AI consciousness we can only observe it in the third person.

Again from what we can observe, AI only mimics the human mind and its consciousness. It is not human. For instance, AI has the capability to mimic human emotions and even perceive them, but it does not actually feel these emotions. Further, AI is more intelligent than humans on many tasks. However, intelligence alone does not mean it has consciousness like a human. See FutureOfWorkHub’s Artificial consciousness: what is it and what are the issues? for more discussion on artificial consciousness.

3. Can AI Consciousness Fully Mimic Human Consciousness?

Human consciousness is a complex and poorly understood phenomenon. Despite many scientific efforts over hundreds, if not thousands of years, we still do not know how consciousness emerges or how it works. It is, therefore, safe to say that designing an AGI with consciousness that fully mimics human consciousness will be a long way off. 

“Human intelligence is a marvelous, subtle, and poorly understood phenomenon. There is no danger of duplicating it anytime soon.“

Mitch Kapor

4. Should AI Have Similar Rights As Humans?

Because AI can mimic human behavior, it is fair to ask if AI deserves some type of special moral consideration or rights like humans have. For the sake of discussion, here are three arguments for and against AI having rights like humans.

The Arguments On Whether AI Should Have Rights Or Not
  1. AI Programmed With A Moral Code By Its Developer. It is true that AI can be programmed to follow a moral code like “do no harm to humans”. So, should AI be accountable for violating its programmed moral code or should accountability rest with its human owners? 
  2. AI Is A Tool With No Special Rights. Others argue that AI is merely a tool created by humans and therefore does not warrant a moral status or special rights of its own. 
  3. AI That Mimics Feelings And Emotions Should Have Rights. There is also the case where AI, such as smart humanoid robots, are mimicking many human characteristics. In fact in some instances of AI, some of us are growing an emotional attachment to it. In this case, should we bestow human-like rights to AI such as the right to be free from destruction from humans or other legal rights? 

a. It Is Hard To Say No To An AI Creature That Displays Feelings And Emotions.

It is hard not to be attached to a creature that displays feelings and emotions, even if you know it is AI. However, there is a strong argument that AI does not deserve special moral considerations or rights. Now, some may disagree with this conclusion. Others may agree that AI is only a software program, but at the same time more and more of us cannot help grow an emotional attachment to AI that displays feelings and emotions.

For example, our AI creations are starting to exhibit many of the characteristics of the endearing droids, R2-D2 and C-3PO, in Star Wars. Another example of our emotional challenges with AI and artificial consciousness is similar to the Frankenstein monster story. See extract below, from  Anil Seth’s article, Why Conscious AI Is a Bad, Bad Idea in his discussion of AI consciousness.

“As the German philosopher Thomas Metzinger has noted, this would precipitate an unprecedented moral and ethical crisis because once something is conscious, we have a responsibility toward its welfare, especially if we created it. The problem wasn’t that Frankenstein’s creature came to life; it was that it was conscious and could feel.”

b. AI Can Now Pass The Turing Test, But That Does Not Mean It Has Consciousness.

So the question of AI consciousness is perplexing and tugs at our human emotions. However, the bottom line is that AI does not have human consciousness. It is what it is – a complex entity that has artificial intelligence that can “trick” humans into believing it is sentient. 

Further, though AI can mimic human characteristics this does not mean it has the ability to have feelings, experience sensations and emotions. For this is a case where, “quacking like a duck, does not make it a duck”. We cannot just start treating an AI system as a human just because it can mimic a human. Indeed, AI is part of our real life and is not in a movie like Star Wars with an endearing R2-D2 droid. Moreover, AI may now be able to pass the Turing Test by portraying itself as human, but that does not necessarily mean it should be given some type of human status or human rights.

For more insightful discussions on AI consciousness and its moral considerations, see Elisabeth Hildt’s article, Artificial Intelligence: Does Consciousness Matter? and Muhammad U. Faruque’s article, AI versus Human Consciousness: A Future with Machines as Our Masters?. Also, for more from Unvarnished Facts on the topic of consciousness, see following article: Our Consciousness: Revealing Examples On The Aware Mind Making Decisions and What Is Consciousness? Know The Fundamentals Of What This Is Actually And Is Not.

For more from Unvarnished Facts, see articles on intelligent technology, culture, and accountability.

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