The rapid advancement of AI technology has led to the emergence of ChatGPT, which is capable of mimicking human interaction to the point that it raises the question of whether it has consciousness. While the consensus is that ChatGPT is not alive in the traditional sense, the definition of consciousness in the age of AI has become a topic of debate.
Neural networks and consciousness
According to Nick Bostrom, the founding director of Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute, the mapping of deep neural networks onto views about consciousness is unknown territory. While philosophers have long pondered the nature of consciousness, it is only recently that researchers have started considering how to define consciousness in the context of AI.
ChatGPT and other similar programs, referred to as “large language models,” are already being used for various tasks, such as programming and writing press releases, thanks to their fluency in English and other languages. While they follow strict ethical guidelines, there is no indication that they are capable of developing consciousness.
What is consciousness?
For something to be conscious, many philosophers argue that it must have a subjective experience. According to David Chalmers, co-director of New York University’s Center for Mind, Brain, and Consciousness, while ChatGPT lacks many commonly assumed elements of consciousness, such as sensation and independent agency, it is possible that a more sophisticated program could possess these traits.
One of the challenges of determining whether a sophisticated chatbot is conscious is that it may lie or provide unreliable responses. Susan Schneider, the founding director of Florida Atlantic University’s Center for the Future Mind, suggests that one way to test if a program is conscious is to deny it access to existing human writing that it uses to describe its internal state and assess whether it can still describe subjective experience.
The debate continues
The debate on the definition of consciousness in the age of AI is relatively new, and there is still a lot of work to be done. However, as AI technology continues to advance, it is essential to consider the moral implications of creating sophisticated chatbots that could potentially possess consciousness.
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