Nature Future Conditional

The story behind the story: Mr Singularity

This week, Futures is delighted to welcome back Norman Spinrad as he explores the idea of consciousness and AI in the story Mr Singularity. Norman is no stranger to Futures — or indeed sci-fi — having appeared in our pages as long ago as 2000. His latest tale squares up to artificial intelligence and here he reveals the ideas that inspired it — as ever, it pays to read the story first.

Writing Mr Singularity

I’ve been interested in the difference between ‘artificial intelligence’ and consciousness for decades, long before Verne Vinge even thought about anything like the Singularity. In particular, I’m interested in the question of what consciousness is in physical terms.  Way back in the 1970s, Dona Sadock and I wrote an essay called ‘Psychesomics’, published in Analog, which centrally was about how consciousness — a non-physical subjective experience we all experience, indeed that is the ‘me’ that is what experiences anything — might arise from mass and energy.

We grossly underestimated how long it would take for a science we called psychesomics — the science of the relationship between the subjective experience of consciousness and the objective realm of mass and energy — to evolve and answer this question, figuring it would take a decade or so, when in fact, three decades later, it still hasn’t.

We did come up with our own theory, which still has not been proven or disproven.  Namely that consciousness is a holographic phenomenon, the interface between sensory input and internal information — sight, sound, smell, vision, touch, bodily sensations, cerebral biochemistry, hormonal messages, etc., data — and the physical processing ‘meatware’ of the brain and indeed the body entire.

This is one main reason why I believe that artificial intelligence is not artificial consciousness and probably can’t be.  And however ‘intelligent’ AIs may become, even to the point where they create more powerful AIs, which create more powerful AIs until the Singularity is supposedly reached, they are not consciousnesses, cannot be consciousnesses, but only clever emulations thereof.

Which is the ‘anti-Turing test’ that Mr Singularity fails.

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