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Will AI Ever Achieve Consciousness?

A former Facebook executive thinks so, assuming progress will eventually get us there

John Carmack, a former Facebook executive who famously expressed doubts over Mark Zuckerberg’s ambitious metaverse project, thinks AI is “on the cusp” of simulating the human brain. Per a report from Futurism, Carmack sat down with Dallas Innovates and talked about the possibilities of AI, as well as its prime obstacle: an inconvenient thing called consciousness. Carmack said,

The thing we don’t yet have is sort of the consciousness, the associative memory, the things that have a life and goals and planning. I mean, forget human brains; we don’t even have things that can act like a mouse or a cat.”

Despite the far-off dream of developing consciousness in AI, Carmack thinks it’s plausible, given the great strides we’ve seen in the technology industry over the last couple of decades.

However, consciousness remains a mystery. It’s the thing we as humans know best through experience and yet understand the least. It bucks against quantification and its definition and origins are endlessly debated. So, if AI is going to replicate consciousness, we should probably first reach an agreement about what consciousness is.

From a materialistic perspective, such a task seems insurmountable. Will scientists ever conclude that the brain is nothing more than matter, akin to machinery, and so subject to imitation in man-made machines? Or will they keep stumbling in the dark, making guesses, and anthropomorphizing AI to the point that it can only seem conscious and human?

Maggie Harrison writes in her review of Carmack’s comments,

While Carmack didn’t offer Dallas Innovates a solid definition of machine consciousness himself, he mainly seems to think that speed of innovation begets speed of innovation. A because-we’ve-gotten-this-far-of-course-we’ll-get-that-far sort of thing.”

-Maggie Harrison, Former Facebook Exec Says AI Will Soon Simulate the Human Brain (futurism.com)

Is Carmack’s optimism merited? Or is his conception of consciousness lacking and limited? While AI may appear to adopt certain human characteristics, consciousness remains a mystery, one that belongs to human beings to wonder at and enjoy.

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Will AI Ever Achieve Consciousness?