Creative Machines: Tomorrow’s Possibilities, Today’s Responsibilities

The issue that lurks right over the horizon of possibility is whether increasing complexification in generatively encoded “intelligent machines” could instantiate some form of consciousness.  I argue that the most probable answer is “yes”. The system would become auto-referential, and in this way, acquire a “sense of self”.  Leaving aside more deeply philosophical discussions on the topic, at the most basic level this means that the system would develop an awareness of its internal state and of external conditions and be able to discriminate between itself and things that are not itself. This is an important step, as it would lead to relationality – a set of functions that provide resonance or dissonance with particular types of (internal and/or external) environmental conditions, reinforcement and reward for achieving certain goals or states, and in this way a sense of what neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has called “a feeling of what happens“;  in other words, a form of consciousness (and self-consciousness).

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A Reason for Reason

“…still I look to find a reason to believe…”

                                               Rod Stewart

Recently Mercier and Sperber have reported on the role of reason in human cognition, social behavior, and formulation of epistemological capital. In an evolutionary-developmental (evo-devo) neuroscientific light, this comports well with a bio-psychosocial model of both individual and cultural cognitive capability. As a species (and like many other species) we tend to augment our existing capabilities and skills, and compensate for those we lack. In this way, the ability to reason may afford particular cognitive capacities that facilitates our social interactions, and compensates for the limitations and restrictions imposed by a single point of view. Sort of a combination of “there’s power in numbers” and “two heads are better than one” approach to social cognition. I’m fond of referring to the late George Bugliarello’s concept of BioSoMa, as an interesting model to depict the engagement of social interaction and use of tools (e.g.- machination) in response to our biological abilities and limitations. As Mercier and Sperber note, it seems that reasoning is based upon a set of fundamental cognitive constructs and intuitions, and provides a mechanism with which to navigate through the nuances of an issue. But the human ability to reason is not reason to expect a lack of bias in the ways of thought and action; but rather, quite the opposite – reason provides a way to approach a situation and/or problem by engaging our subjective cognitive and emotional perspective in comparison (and perhaps contest) with the ideas of others. And frequently, it’s a case of “let the best biases win”.

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