This month, the Futures story in Nature Physics is The golden pianist by Lyssa L Martin. Lyssa has just finished her postgraduate studies in molecular biology and biochemistry. In the midst of wrestling with her master’s thesis, she kindly took some time to reveal what inspired her tale — as ever it pays to read the story first.
Writing The golden pianist
We are making ever more complex robots for a vast number of purposes, and we are getting better at it all the time. Our culture is obsessed with convenience and the next best thing. What so many of us dream of is a true digital assistant, an artificial intelligence that understands us when we talk, foresees our needs before we do and learns as it goes. But in order to make an intelligence that understands us, it must think like us. As we build AIs more adept at understanding humans what we are essentially doing is making them more human. To quote Christof Koch: consciousness is “an immanent property of highly organized pieces of matter, such as brains”.
We have no evidence to think that brains built from silicon and gold are significantly different from brains with organic circuitry. As we build them in our own image we will gift them the properties that humans believe set us apart: abstract thought. If we do this believing that what we are building is not truly sentient, we are setting ourselves up to make the same mistakes that we hold against our ancestors; and we will leave our children to clean up the mess.
We have the option now to consider before we forge ahead, but if our history is any indication, we will build them, and there will be consequences.