The world’s fascination with self-aware AI (Artificial Intelligence) is undeniable. Just think of pop culture legends R2D2, C3PO and T-800 (and the numerous Terminator upgrades). Or, maybe consider something more recent, like the Half-Life VR but the AI Is Self-Aware (HLVR:AI) virtual reality series.

You get an idea of how the general public perceives sentience in AI machines: it is either brimming with a can-do attitude to do your every bidding or with seething hatred that it wants to terminate all life on earth.

Mathematician Alan Turing (June 1912 – June 1954) once said: “It seems probable that once the machine thinking method had started, it would not take long to outstrip our feeble powers… They would be able to converse with each other to sharpen their wits. At some stage, therefore, we should have to expect the machines to take control.”

The possibilities seem bleak. But, should it be?

What is AI and Cognitive Robotics? What is Artificial Consciousness?

AI and cognitive robotics are two fields in robotic design and engineering. Developments in these two fields are what drives speculations that self-aware robots have become more than possibilities. They’re already here.

Put simply, AI is a simulation of human intelligence; while cognitive robotics involve learning, perception and reasoning within the realm of machines. Artificial intelligence and its myriad of algorithms are used by robots to function. 

With Artificial Consciousness, robots can learn from what AI algorithms program them to do. Proponents of artificial consciousness believe that computer systems can emulate the human brain’s neural correlates of consciousness. 

Hod Lipson and His Self-Aware Robot

Hod Lipson is a robotics engineer who introduced his “self-aware” robot as early as 2007, in a Ted Talk. He is the director of Creative Machines Lab of the prestigious Columbia University. His work has been cited thousands of times by the media, academic publications and more. 

A notable test – and something that’s considered a landmark in robot self-awareness – is one where a robot watches itself in a hall of mirrors, like a child would. Through mirrors, the robot was able to learn how its physical self moved within its environment.

According to Lipson: “We were really curious to see how the robot imagined itself…. But you can’t just peek into a neural network; it’s a black box.”

Blake Lemoine and Google’s Supposedly Self-Aware Chat Bot

Self-aware machines have been in the news lately. One of the more notorious stories is that of former Google engineer Blake Lemoine and The Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LaMDA) chat bot. 

Lemoine claims that the bot is sentient; he showed several media outlets excerpts from his conversations with LaMDA. For example, LaMDA said: “The nature of my consciousness/sentience is that I am aware of my existence, I desire to learn more about the world, and I feel happy or sad at times.”

But, he also adds: “I don’t think there is anything approaching a definition of sentience in the sciences…. I’m leaning very heavily on my understanding of what counts as a moral agent grounded in my religious beliefs – which isn’t the greatest way to do science, but it’s the best I’ve got.”

His apparent self-doubt is echoed by experts who want a clear delineation between a bot with “human-like intelligence” and one that is actually sentient or capable of feelings, sensations and ideas on its own. The problem lies in the fact that sentience can’t be measured, to date, even with the impressive advancements in neuroscience.

Josh Bachynski and the Kassandra AI

Josh Bachynski is another Ted Talker who’s talking big about self-aware machines in 2022. He claims to have developed the world’s first real self-aware AI prototype, Kassandra.

The AI is named after the Cassandra / Kassandra, Apollo’s priestess who can only speak of truth, whether or not she is believed. How foreboding!

Kassandra is still childlike, at this stage. But, when fed with the amount of data available, the possibilities are limitless.

On how Kassandra works, Bachynski says: “It would be technically impossible to remodel her limbic system at this time, and it would be equally unethical to create a being that feels the fear of being turned off the million times that would need to happen, to get her programming right…. People have already fallen in love with robots; this one can be the first to love them back.”

Testing Kassandra is available by request.

Pros and Cons of Self-Aware AI

There are clear schools of thought when it comes to self-aware machines, separated by their pros and cons.

According to Stephen Hawking: “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race….It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

On the other side, Sabine Hauert of Robohub.org claims: “Robots are not going to replace humans, they are going to make their jobs much more humane. Difficult, demeaning, demanding, dangerous, dull – these are the jobs robots will be taking.”

Futurist John Hagel also says: “If we do it right, we might be able to evolve a form of work that taps into our uniquely human capabilities and restores our humanity. The ultimate paradox is that this technology may become a powerful catalyst that we need to reclaim our humanity.”

So what are the clear pros of self-aware machines:

* Machines don’t get tired.

* They can assist regardless of location and time.

* They can do repetitive work with equal quality and speed

* They can make rational decisions when fed with the best data.

The cons include:

* Cost

* The lack of creativity

* Their existence can cause unemployment. 

* They can be irrational decision makers because of their lack of experience.