Intelligence and Consciousness
consciousness are two outstanding and intrinsic characteristics of human
nature. Science has made remarkable progress in the field of artificial
intelligence (the simulation of intelligence in computers), but it is unlikely
that we will ever build artificial consciousness.
Intelligence is the
ability to learn, understand and handle unexpected situations; there is little
ambiguity in the meaning of such an important human characteristic. When the
SETI acronym (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) was coined in the
sixties and the project started, participants knew quite well what kind of
quality they were trying to find elsewhere in the cosmos. Leaving aside its
usefulness and accuracy, the existing approaches for estimating the
intelligence of a person are another clear indication of the unambiguous sense
of the word.
Not so with the term
'consciousness'. Consciousness has more to do with sentience -the ability to
feel, see, hear, smell or taste that we humans possess- than with the logic and
math of the physical world. By the dimension of its mystery, definitions of
consciousness fall back on what is being defined. "Consciousness is the
condition of being conscious," says the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
"Consciousness is the knowledge of the self", writes the dictionary
of the Royal Spanish Academy. It is not possible to measure the degree of
consciousness of another person and, as the English psychologist Nicholas
Humphrey points out, scientists would not know where to start if they wanted to undertake a SETC project to search for 'extraterrestrial
of artificial intelligence in the field of video games are contributing to the
demarcation between intelligence and consciousness. We can build
machines with intelligence but we cannot create, or at least not yet, objects
There already exist
computerized algorithms that 'learn' to play video games by themselves, as those developed by DeepMind, a London company, now owned by Google. This software,
which incorporates 'routines' or characteristics known to exist in the human
brain, learned to play numerous classic games from Atari and after a few hours,
half of them reached performance levels well above those of professional
progresses, as those achieved with these self-learning programs, are of concern
to more than one brilliant mind. “The development of full artificial
intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” physicist Stephen Hawking
warns. “Perhaps these learning algorithms are the dark clouds on humanity’s
horizon; perhaps they will be our final invention," says neuroscientist
Christof Koch. This columnist, on the other hand, considers that the distinction
between intelligence and consciousness, despite sharing the same brain and
billions neural connections, give us the assurance that no powerful set of computers
will ever take over the Earth on their own initiative.
Consciousness is the
greatest of mysteries in human existence. We know that consciousness occurs in
the brain but, beyond feeling and perceiving it, and having the certainty that
‘we exist’, there is very little that we know for sure about how consciousness
works. The understanding provided indirectly by machines that learn faster than
intelligent people produces some peace: Being intelligent does not mean being
“I think therefore I
am”, Descartes famous statement, now appears to be incomplete. The machines
that science has developed can learn, understand and manage games unknown to
them; there is no doubt, such machines can think but such computers do not know
they exist today but are going to disappear tomorrow. Perhaps if the French
mathematician and philosopher had been born four centuries later, besides being
a computer geek and a child prodigy, surely would have written instead: "I
think and feel, therefore I am."
Author of 'Inner Harmony through Mindfulness Meditation'
London, June 20, 2015
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