Now is the time to probably start worrying concerning the future. While artificial intelligence has been making considerable progress, the doomsday scenarios painted by science fiction are still years, if not decades, away in the absence of one critical factor: self-awareness. Now that might actually start to be a concern. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute professor Selmer Bringsjord demonstrated how those cute and polite NAO robots have been able to gain an extremely short instance of self-awareness. OK, maybe we don’t need to panic just yet, but it’s a start.
The AI experiment used a variant of a logical puzzle popularly known as the King’s Wise Men. In this particular instance, however, things have been simplified a bit and adapted to robotics. The robots are made aware of something called a “dumbing pill”. In actuality, it’s just a button on top of their head which silenced them. The tester then proceeds to tap the heads of the robot but only two are really “given” the pill. They are then asked which pill they received.
All three of them will try to answer “I don’t know”, but since only one of them can actually really speak, it is the one that stands up and audibly says it. But then, a few seconds later, it realizes this and concludes that it didn’t receive the dumbing pill. In other words, it became aware that it was able to speak and arrived at the logical conclusion.
None of these except the knowledge about the dumbing pill were preprogrammed, in case you might be wondering if there was a trick to it. The NAO robots were able to understand the question and also recognize their own voice. And on hearing it, it will realize that it is logically impossible that they received the dumbing pill. It’s rather crude at this point but it forms the basis of artificial consciousness, the building blocks of a truly sentient robot of the future.
The good news? Bringsjord himself believes that the human mind will always be superior to an artificial one, even with self-awareness. Whether that will stand in the face of a genocidal AI is something we hope we won’t have to find out for ourselves.