Computers could develop consciousness and may need ‘human’ rights, says Oxford professor
Prof Marcus du Sautoy Credit:
29 May 2016 • 2:14pm
Advances in artificial intelligence could lead to computers and smartphones developing consciousness and they may need to be given ‘human’ rights, an expert has claimed.
Marcus du Sautoy, who took over from Richard Dawkins as Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University in 2008 said it was now possible to measure consciousness and, in the future, technology could be deemed to be ‘alive.’
Most scientists believe that computers are close to getting to a point where they begin to develop their own intelligence and no longer need to be programmed, an event dubbed the ‘technological singularity.’
“If we understand these things are having a level of consciousness are we might well have to introduce rights.”Marcus du Sautoy
“It’s getting to a point where we will might be able to say this thing has a sense of itself and maybe there is a threshold moment where suddenly this consciousness emerges.
“One of the things I address in my new book is how can you tell whether my smartphone will ever be conscious.
“The fascinating thing is that consciousness for a decade has been something that nobody has gone anywhere near because we didn’t know how to measure it.
“But we’re in a golden age. It’s a bit like Galieo with a telescope. We now have a telescope into the brain and it’s given us an opportunity to see things that we’ve never been able to see before.
“And if we understand these things are having a level of consciousness are we might well have to introduce rights. It’s an exciting time.”
Scientists can now measure consciousness and believe it could be applied to computers to test their self-awareness Credit:
Currently scientists conduct an experiment known as the ‘Turing Test’ to assess a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour which is indistinguishable from a human. If a human cannot tell the difference between a computer’s response and a person’s it is said to pass the test.
But a new field is developing which actually measures consciousness. Scientists noticed that the neural activity of the brain acts very differently during sleep – an unconscious state – and have used the difference to develop a ‘coefficient of consciousness’ which could be applied to any network to gauge its self-awareness.
Prof Marcus du Sautoy discusses the limitations of knowledge in his new book What We Cannot Know
Prof du Sautoy added: “In babies there is something called the mirror self-recognition test, a moment where a child recognises the image in the mirror is themselves and has a sense of self.
“I think there is something in the brain development which might be like a boiling point. It may be a threshold moment.
“Philosophers will say that doesn’t guarantee that that thing is really feeling anything and really has a sense of self. It might be just saying all the things that make us think it’s alive. But then even in humans we can’t know that what a person is saying is real.
“Consciousness is like a box that we all have and inside this box we all have something called a beetle. We all call it a beetle, but we don’t know if the thing in your box is actually like the thing in mine. How can I ever see what’s in your box?”