“Consciousness in Artificial Intelligence” – John Searle | Talks at Google

Curb your AI enthusiasm, Ray.

John Searle

Ray is Ray Kurzweil, renowned futurist and author of books on artificial intelligence, transhumanism, and the technological singularity. Kurzweil—sitting right up front—was the first person to raise their hand and ask Searle a question after his talk at Google. The philosopher’s reply was just brilliant.

Making a fundamental distinction between the epistemic and the ontological, Searle argues that AI engineers rely too much on epistemic (linguistic), and too little on ontological evidence for artificial intelligence (whence the case of Google’s LaMDA AI, which has recently been reported to have become sentient). According to Searle, machines can simulate human reasoning, but not actually think, interpret, understand what they are “doing”. A machine can be programmed to perfectly simulate, syntactically (in words), an existential crisis, but it is unlikely to know what it’s like to experience one. Artificial intelligence is incapable of thaumazein (Greek word for awe, wonder, astonishment, amazement).

The “intelligence” of machines and electronic devices is programmed syntactically, but they are devoid of a comprehensive semantics, which—according to Searle—distinguishes actual human reasoning from the sheer computational function of machines. It is the false equivalence between human intelligence and computational processing that led Wired‘s editor-in-chief Chris Anderson to declare “the end of theory“, meaning that human thinking, interpreting, and judging would no longer be called for in the face of artificial intelligence and big data. Apart from that, we are machine-like creatures ourselves, with the difference that we can perform way more rational, complicated tasks than artificial machines. In order to achieve true “artificial intelligence”, Searle thinks, neuroscience is a more promising horizon than big data. True “artificial intelligence” could only come to be if humans were able to artificially recreate a brain-like organism. And it is unlikely that the thinking brain functions the same way as an electronic circuit on a chip-equipped, plastic motherboard, and that thoughts, feelings, and emotions amount to binary, quantifiable data.

John Searle is the Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. His Talk at Google is focused on the philosophy of mind and the potential for consciousness in artificial intelligence. This Talk was hosted for Google’s Singularity Network.

John is widely noted for his contributions to the philosophy of language, philosophy of mind and social philosophy. Searle has received the Jean Nicod Prize, the National Humanities Medal, and the Mind & Brain Prize for his work. Among his notable concepts is the “Chinese room” argument against “strong” artificial intelligence.