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Inner Life of Super Human
Inner Life of Super Human

A Silicon Valley Psychologist Doesn’t Believe in Consciousness

Duncan Riach thinks that, with increasing complexity, computers will appear to be conscious too but it’s a misunderstanding for both humans and computers

Duncan Riach, who believes that computers can become selves, doesn’t believe in consciousness. As he explains,

I’ve lost friends over this because a denial of consciousness undermines a final refuge of the arrogance of selfhood: universal consciousness. But even most normal people are strongly insistent that consciousness is a real thing, a special thing, and that they possess it. The problem I have is that there’s not only no evidence for it, but what people seem to be referring to as consciousness is explainable as an effect no more unusual, no less materialistically explainable, than water flowing downhill…

Rather than jumping to the conclusion that this body has a soul and/or that somehow this “I am,” this feeling of something being separate, is somehow special and unique, worthy of a the magical idea of “consciousness,” why should we not apply Occam’s razor. I think that, especially in light of the progress made in machine intelligence, it’s far simpler to conjecture that what we call consciousness is just the dry output of another, slightly more complex, mechanism.

We can start with any less intelligent system and add to it a mechanism that can monitor and detect an apparent grouping of intelligent behavior. That mechanism can notice that the overall system seems to have autonomy in the same way that the simpler sub-system can recognize a particular face. At some level of complexity, and ability to self-reference, the system will inevitably claim that “I am,” and also, hopefully, that “you are too.” There’s no doubt in my mind that this is going to happen.

Duncan Riach, “Why I Don’t Believe in Consciousness and what AI seems to be revealing about it” at Medium

When Riach says that “there is no doubt in my mind,” he is himself acting on a classical aspect of consciousness: faith. He has a mind and it can form a vision of reality he would very much like to be true—that the machine will suddenly come to life.

The machine will not, of course, do this because the machine will not have any faith or a vision he did not give it. The final level of complexity is immaterial.


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A Silicon Valley Psychologist Doesn’t Believe in Consciousness