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How to Build a Self-Conscious Machine
Source: Hugh Howey

The universe is full of some very cool stuff: neutron stars that weigh a ton a teaspoon; supermassive black holes that grip even light in their iron fists; infinitesimal neutrinos that stream right through solid steel; all the bizarre flora and fauna found right here on planet Earth.

It might be the ultimate in egoism, but of all the known things in the universe, the most amazing is surely the lump of goo inside our skulls. That lump of goo knows about neutron stars, black holes, neutrinos, and a middling number of the flora and fauna here on planet Earth. It even knows (a little) about itself. That lump of goo has worked out mathematical truths, moral half-truths, and philosophical ambiguities. And from the mud beneath our feet, it extracted all the stuff used to make our great cities, our cars and jets and rockets, and the wires and wireless signals that are turning these disparate lumps of goo into one great hivemind of creativity, knowledge, and sometimes cruelty.

There can be no argument that our brains are the coolest things ever, because there can be no such argument without those brains. They are the substrate of all argument and discussion. End of discussion.

So far, at least. One day, other things may be discovered or built that can also discover, create, argue, discuss, cajole, or be cruel. They might land in ships from faraway lands (highly unlikely). They might emerge from a laboratory or a garage (almost certainly). And these new thinking machines will without a doubt surpass the wonder of our lumps of goo. Just as a child grows taller than both parents and reaches new peaks while those parents decline, our creations will take our places as the coolest damn things in the universe. Some argue that this is already true.

Artificial intelligence is here now. In laboratories all around the world, little AIs are springing to life. Some play chess better than any human ever has. Some are learning to drive a million cars a billion miles while saving more lives than most doctors or EMTs will over their entire careers. Some will make sure your dishes are dry and spot-free, or that your laundry is properly fluffed and without wrinkle. Countless numbers of these intelligences are being built and programmed; they are only going to get smarter and more pervasive; they’re going to be better than us, but they’ll never be just like us. And that’s a good thing.

What separates us from all the other life forms on earth is the degree to which we are self-aware. Most animals are conscious. Many are even self-conscious. But humans are something I like to call hyper-conscious. There’s an amplifier in our brains wired into our consciousnesses, and it goes to 11.

It goes to 11, and the knob has come off.


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