(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘sentience

“Sheer dumb sentience”*…

The eyes of the conch snail

As the power of AI grows, we find ourselves searching for a way to tell it might– or has– become sentient. Kristen Andrews and Jonathan Birch suggest that we should look to the minds of animals…

… Last year, [Google engineer Blake] Lemoine leaked the transcript [of an exchange he’d had with LaMDA, a Google AI system] because he genuinely came to believe that LaMDA was sentient – capable of feeling – and in urgent need of protection.

Should he have been more sceptical? Google thought so: they fired him for violation of data security policies, calling his claims ‘wholly unfounded’. If nothing else, though, the case should make us take seriously the possibility that AI systems, in the very near future, will persuade large numbers of users of their sentience. What will happen next? Will we be able to use scientific evidence to allay those fears? If so, what sort of evidence could actually show that an AI is – or is not – sentient?

The question is vast and daunting, and it’s hard to know where to start. But it may be comforting to learn that a group of scientists has been wrestling with a very similar question for a long time. They are ‘comparative psychologists’: scientists of animal minds.

We have lots of evidence that many other animals are sentient beings. It’s not that we have a single, decisive test that conclusively settles the issue, but rather that animals display many different markers of sentience. Markers are behavioural and physiological properties we can observe in scientific settings, and often in our everyday life as well. Their presence in animals can justify our seeing them as having sentient minds. Just as we often diagnose a disease by looking for lots of symptoms, all of which raise the probability of having that disease, so we can look for sentience by investigating many different markers…

On learning from our experience of animals to assess AI sentience: “What has feelings?” from @KristinAndrewz and @birchlse in @aeonmag.

Apposite: “The Future of Human Agency” (a Pew round-up of expert opinion on the future impact of AI)

Provocative in a resonant way: “The Philosopher Who Believes in Living Things.”

* Kim Stanley Robinson, 2312


As we talk to the animals, we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to J. P. Guilford; he was born on this date in 1897. A psychologist, he’s best remembered as a developer and practitioner of psychometrics, the quantitative measurement of subjective psychological phenomena (such sensation, personality, attention).

Guilford’s Structure of Intellect (SI) theory rejected the view that intelligence could be characterized in a single numerical parameter. He proposed that three dimensions were necessary for accurate description: operations, content, and products.

Guilford also developed the concepts of “convergent” and “divergent” thinking, as part of work he did emphasizing the importance of creativity in industry, science, arts, and education, and in urging more research into it nature.

Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Guilford as the 27th most cited psychologist of the 20th century.


“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated…”*


Capt. Kirk facing a Horta, a silicon-based life-form (in “Devil in the Dark” from “Star Trek: The Original Series”


Silicon-based (and other alternate) forms of life are a staple of speculative fiction.  But are they as far-fetched as they might seem?  In Smithsonian‘s Daily Planet blog, astrobiologist Dirk Schulze-Makuch suggests not

It would be extremely “earth-centric” to presume that the biochemistry on our planet is the only way life can operate. But just how different can it be? One extreme example are the “Horta,” the silicon-based life portrayed in Star Trek. Could we expect organisms like that on a terrestrial, meaning Earth-type, planet? Most likely not, because the biochemistry of life is intrinsically related to its environment. On Earth, silicon and oxygen are the main building blocks of Earth’s crust and mantle. Most rocks, particularly volcanic and igneous rocks, are built from silicate minerals, which are based on a silicon and oxygen framework. Any free silicon would be bound in these rocks, which are inert at moderate temperatures. Only at very high temperatures does the framework become more plastic and reactive, which led Gerald Feinberg and Robert Shapiro to suggest the possible existence of lavobes and magmobes that could live in molten silicate rocks

Adam and 3-CPO, from “Darths and Droids”


One can read the full story at “Is Silicon-Based Life Possible?

And one can muse on a resonant issue: if we earth-bound humans tend to be pretty precious about our definition of life, we are even more sensitive– indeed, often down-right chauvinistic– in our understandings of consciousnesssentience and who/what can or can’t enjoy them.

* Confucius


As we study up for the Turing Test, we might send animated birthday greetings to Hans Adolf Eduard Driesch; he was born on this date in 1867.  The father of experimental embryology and the first person to clone an animal, Driesch was also the creator of the philosophy of entelechy—  and thus the last the last great spokesman for vitalism.  Following in the footsteps of Epicurus, Galen, and Pasteur, Driesch argued that life cannot be explained as physical or chemical phenomena.



Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 28, 2013 at 1:01 am

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