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On Consciousness and Artificial Intelligence

14 August 2012

Studying and understanding consciousness is an important issue, yet there are not that many people working on it it. Why is that? The understanding of consciousness is one of the many extremely difficult to solve problems in human civilization along with unlimited energy sources, sustainable food supplies, curing cancer, eliminating diseases, prolonging life, and space travel. When people first started studying artificial intelligence at the advent of the computer, there was large enthusiasm and hard work because we thought we could solve the problems easily, but it turned out intelligence is extremely difficult. After people gave up and funding dried up for AI research, there was a very long period of stagnation known as the AI winter. In the 1980’s. AI studies started to make a comeback in the form of machine learning and statistical modeling, but it is a totally different beast from the original goal of creating an intelligence that can learn like us, also called strong AI. Some scientists in the field have the belief that with further incremental improvements to these statistical models, we will be able to achieve a strong AI. I do not believe that to be the case. I believe we must build our AI systems in a fundamentally different way and I will discuss later how I think this could be achieved.

If you look at the past century, computers have been assisting us to learn things at an increasingly accelerated pace, yet the pace is still considerably slow compared to our imaginations. Areas such as cancer research and AIDS research while having been researched for many years, are still not our grasps of solving them.
AI is a fundamental key to excelling all these hard problems I mentioned above. Although we can continue individually researching these areas, we constantly make errors, mix up logic with emotion, become harmfully prideful, and go down the wrong paths. All of these factors contribute to us learning slower than what could ultimately be achieved. An AI could be designed to learn like us, yet not make the mistakes that we so commonly make.

As with many new technologies, they have the chance to improve the quality of our lives. Like the invention of electricity, computers, and the internet, artificial intelligence will be life changing for human society, AI has the potential to be the largest revolution mankind has ever seen.

Although we are learning more about consciousness and intelligence, we still know very little about how our minds work.
I encourage anyone who is interested in this topic to dig deeper into the subject matter and see if this is an area where you want to contribute. The field is still wide open to make discoveries and contributions.