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AI and “Qualia,” the Ability to Experience

Robert J. Marks writes on AI's limits in new article at Salvo

Robert J. Marks wrote an article for the Spring Issue of Salvo Magazine on AI, covering his ideas on its “non-computability” in the areas of love, empathy, and creativity.

The Quality of Qualia

I was particularly intrigued by Marks’s thoughts on qualia, a term used to describe the multifaceted realm of sensory experience. We often report on AI’s inability to be creative here at Mind Matters, but what about experiencing the world through touch, smell, and sight? Qualia is related to the mystery of consciousness, another non-computable feature of human life, and according to Marks, is far out of the purview of AI capabilities. Marks writes about the experience of biting into an orange as an example:

If the experience of biting an orange segment cannot be described to a man without the senses of taste and smell, how can a computer programmer expect to duplicate qualia experiences in a computer using computer code? If the true experience can’t be explained, it is nonalgorithmic and therefore non-computable. There are devices called artificial noses and tongues that detect chemicals like the molecules associated with the orange. But these sensors experience no pleasure when the molecules are detected. They experience no qualia. Duplicating qualia is beyond the capability of AI.”

-Robert J. Marks, Cannot Compute by Robert J. Marks – Salvo Magazine

Qualia can’t be explained or encountered through algorithms. We have trouble enough defining it as human beings, since in a way, qualia defies definition. Like consciousness, you have to experience from the first-person point of view to “grasp” it. Literature and the arts do their best to replicate qualia through the poetic word or beautiful image; this demonstrates how the creative arts reflect the unique human capacity to experience and reflect on qualia. Marks also discussed the other classic “non-computables” such as creativity and understanding. He cites the Nobel laureate Roger Penrose, who said, “Intelligence cannot be present without understanding. No computer has any awareness of what it does.”

AI is a Tool

He also affirmed AI as a tool that can be used for either good or evil. Without human agency and intervention, AI is neutral. We created it and can use it for decent or malformed purposes. Marks writes,

As with all new technologies, like electricity and thermonuclear energy, care must be taken in the development of AI to ensure its safe and proper use. Frayed electrical wires still burn down houses, and downed electric lines still electrocute people. But since the advantages of electricity far outweigh the dangers, we mitigate the risks through legislation, standards, and best practices. The hope is that AI dangers can likewise be contained.”

Even though Stephen Hawking feared AI could mean the end of the human race, Marks encourages a more temperate view of these emergent technologies and recommends we collectively do our best to use AI for righteous purposes. Whatever we do, we must maintain the unique value and abilities of human beings.

Read the full article here.

Peter Biles

Writer and Editor, Center for Science & Culture
Peter Biles graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois and went on to receive a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He is a prolific fiction writer and has written stories and essays for a variety of publications. He was born and raised in Ada, Oklahoma and is a contributing writer and editor for Mind Matters.

AI and “Qualia,” the Ability to Experience