Figuring Out AI Consciousness

AI generated image

Artificial Intelligence keeps popping up everywhere from generative AI which created the image above to the financial sector. What AI is currently doing is copying and reformatting data into new patterns (but still using the inputted patterns), meaning that currently AI is not conscious and is not “thinking”. This could easily change in the next decade, only time will tell. To prepare for when AIs seem to express consciousness we need to think about what consciousness actually is and how we can confirm its existence.

What might we ask a potential mind born of silicon? How the AI responds to questions like “What if my red is your blue?” or “Could there be a color greener than green?” should tell us a lot about its mental experiences, or lack thereof. An AI with visual experience might entertain the possibilities suggested by these questions, perhaps replying, “Yes, and I sometimes wonder if there might also exist a color that mixes the redness of red with the coolness of blue.” On the other hand, an AI lacking any visual qualia might respond with, “That is impossible, red, green, and blue each exist as different wavelengths.” Even if the AI attempts to play along or deceive us, answers like, “Interesting, and what if my red is your hamburger?” would show that it missed the point.

Of course, it’s possible that an artificial consciousness might possess qualia vastly different than our own. In this scenario, questions about specific qualia, such as color qualia, might not click with the AI. But more abstract questions about qualia themselves should filter out zombies. For this reason, the best question of all would likely be that of the hard problem itself: Why does consciousness even exist? Why do you experience qualia while processing input from the world around you? If this question makes any sense to the AI, then we’ve likely found artificial consciousness. But if the AI clearly doesn’t understand concepts such as “consciousness” and “qualia,” then evidence for an inner mental life is lacking.

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It’s Time to Embrace that Boys do Cry

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Boys will be boys, as in they will need emotional support and when they are babies they will need more of it than girls. The approach to raising boys who are “tough” and need to “man up” only leads to machismo and other societal ills. So let’s raise boys with more hugs and even more care. It’s time to drop the false assumption that boys ought not to feel emotion or that they can handle distressing moments on their own. If you’re raising a human then I hope you show unfaltering love and emotional care regardless of their gender.

Gendered expectations from parents, teachers and coaches only amplify when boys start school. There’s a prevailing myth that boys are tough enough to handle the barbs of bullying, especially the smaller ones, but research tells us otherwise. A 2021 study showed that boys are more vulnerable to the toxic effects of bullying. In fact, bullied boys reported mental health problems at a rate four times higher than boys who weren’t bullied. That’s especially concerning given the long, toxic tail that bullying has for all children and given that bullying is one of several risk factors  that increases the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

It’s ironic, but independence isn’t something you can learn all by yourself. Boys need tolerant, empathetic adults in their lives in order to become self-reliant. They need to know that we care about and value them, even when we don’t agree with their desires and decisions.

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It’s Good to Say No

Helping people feels good and it’s easy to say yes to helping others; however, it’s not always the best course of action. Of course, this happens very often in the work environment where you and your overworked coworkers need more time to complete tasks. If you keep saying yes to people it might be time to practice ways to say no. Saying no to your coworkers can help you, but it also helps your manager understand people are overworked and will help your coworkers understand boundaries.

7. Use the words “You are welcome to X. I am willing to Y.”

For example, “You are welcome to borrow my car. I am willing to make sure the keys are here for you.” By this you are also saying, “I won’t be able to drive you.” You are saying what you will not do, but you are couching it in terms of what you are willing to do. This is a particularly good way to navigate a request you would like to support somewhat but cannot throw your full weight behind. I particularly like this construct because it also expresses a respect for the other person’s ability to choose, as well as your own. It reminds both parties of the choices they have.

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Working Out Helps You Work it Out

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Going for a walk can help you settle down your overactive brain and help you see things positively, and best of all it’s free! Anxiety and depression rates are increasing in North America for a variety of legitimate reasons; however, we a little working out can bring those rates down. A very effective treatment for anxiety and depression is to use your body and workout. There’s no a growing movement in the english speaking world to get medical professionals prescribe exercise as part of a treatment plan.

“Physical activity can be an effective treatment for mental health problems,” says Ben Singh, lead author and research fellow at the University of South Australia. He thinks it works in several ways: by releasing endorphins and boosting our mood, improving sleep, reducing stress, supporting self-esteem and confidence, and making us feel accomplished and purposeful.

The findings suggest that exercise is particularly helpful in certain situations. While the type of exercise didn’t matter, people got more mental health benefits out of higher-intensity exercise. If you’re doing something that makes you breathe hard, in other words, that’s a good sign.

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Crosswords Reduce Dementia Risk

We know that having friends can help with reducing risk of dementia in old age, but what do people with small (or nonexistent ) social circles do? They can take up leisure activities that get the brain working. Researchers in Australia have found that people who participate in active leisure are less likely to develop dementia. These activities include crosswords, woodworking, painting, and taking classes for fun.

They found that participants who routinely engaged in adult literacy and mental acuity tasks such as education classes, keeping journals, and doing crosswords were 9-11 percent less likely to develop dementia than their peers.

Creative hobbies like crafting, knitting and painting, and more passive activities like reading reduced the risk by 7 percent. In contrast, the size of someone’s social network and the frequency of external outings to the cinema or restaurant were not associated with dementia risk reduction.

The results remained statistically significant even when adjusted for earlier education level, and socioeconomic status. No significant variations were found between men and women.

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