Illustration: Chad Hagen
Imagine that at some time in the not-too-distant future, you’ve bought a smartphone that comes bundled with a personal digital assistant (PDA) living in the cloud. You assign a sexy female voice to the PDA and give it access to all of your emails, social media accounts, calendar, photo album, contacts, and other bits and flotsam of your digital life. She—for that’s how you quickly think of her—knows you better than your mother, your soon-to-be ex-wife, your friends, or your therapist. Her command of English is flawless; you have endless conversations about daily events; she gets your jokes. She is the last voice you hear before you drift off to sleep and the first upon awakening. You panic when she’s off-line. She becomes indispensable to your well-being and so, naturally, you fall in love. Occasionally, you wonder whether she truly reciprocates your feelings and whether she is even capable of experiencing anything at all. But the warm, husky tone of her voice and her ability to be that perfect foil to your narcissistic desires overcome these existential doubts. Alas, your infatuation eventually cools off after you realize she is carrying on equally intimate conversations with thousands of other customers.
This, of course, is the plot of Her, a 2013 movie in which an anodyne Theodore Twombly falls in love with the software PDA Samantha.
Over the next few decades such a fictional scenario will become real and commonplace. Deep machine learning, speech recognition, and related technologies have dramatically progressed, leading to Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Now, and Microsoft’s Cortana. These virtual assistants will continue to improve until they become hard to distinguish from real people, except that they’ll be endowed with perfect recall, poise, and patience—unlike any living being.
The availability of such digital simulacra of many qualities we consider uniquely human will raise profound scientific, psychological, philosophical, and ethical questions. These emulations will ultimately upend the way we think about ourselves, about human exceptionalism, and about our place in the great scheme of things.
Here we will survey the intellectual lay of the land concerning these coming developments. Our view is that as long as such machines are based on present-day computer architectures, they may act just like people—and we may be tempted to treat them that way—but they will, in fact, feel…
Continue reading: https://spectrum.ieee.org/can-we-quantify-machine-consciousness