Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Damásios; "Robots never will have feelings" (or why intelligence is not the same as sentience, consciousness and self-awareness)

Last weekend, Expresso published a long, in-depth and extraordinary interview with Hanna and António Damásio, renowned researchers of the neurobiology of mind and behavior. This is a "must read" and a "piece of art testimony"  written by Clara Ferreira Alves. 

"emotions" and "feelings" are terms used in daily life in an interchangeably way, showing how closely connected emotions are with feelings. However neuroscience considers emotions as complex reactions the body has to certain stimuli. When a person is afraid of something, heart begins to race, mouth becomes dry, skin turns pale and muscles contract; that is the emotional reaction that occurs automatically and unconsciously. Feelings will occur after becoming aware in the brain of such physical changes; only then, we experience the feeling of fear.

Understanding the importance of feelings is one of the core concepts to understanding many of the discussions around the vision of a "strong AI" from were Silicon Valley seems not willing to give up on. 

But, while DeepMind has surpassed humans on the GO game a couple of years after IBM Watson won on Jeopardy contest,  this will sum up to be examples of not a "strong AI" but a "forced AI". If one asks Deepmind or Watson to play Monopoly they won't even know where to start, as they are both AI systems designed to play a specific game and not any type of game (neither to figure any kind of game by themselves). But yes, such AI systems will continuously be programmed to surpass humans and do good stuff as well as terrible stuff, also continuing to be feed the statement of an "artificial intelligence that is more artificial then intelligence".

The Damásios arguments are that intelligence is not the same as sentience (the ability to perceive or feel things), consciousness (awareness of one’s body and environment) and self-awareness (recognition of that consciousness). 

This means a machine or an algorithm can be as smart (of even smarter) than humans, but still lack such capacities and thus, intelligent agents (such as robots) will never have feelings.

"If you do not have a life, you can not experience the joy of being alive".  
From a life time dedicated to research, the Damásios say there are not evidences in favor of the idea that the engendering of feelings in humans would be confined to the cerebral cortex. On the contrary, "based on anatomical and physiological evidences, subcortical structures and even the peripheral and enteric nervous systems appear to make important contributions to the experience of feelings."  This is the same to say that however an ultra-intelligent agent can be, if such agent is not aware of itself, it is not incapable of feeling emotions and thus, it can not experience sensations of any kind - neither the color orange neither the taste of an orange.

This is why in their vision; "Silicon Valley is full of very dangerous people (...) that believe they own reason (...) and because they lack the human argument, they feed a sort of technological & scientific fanaticism (...)."  

Assertively, they refer to people like Ray Kurzweil (famed futurist and Google executive) and Elon Musk (founder of Tesla, SpaceX, and OpenAI); " (...) powerful fanatic people that want to buy immortality." 

Presenting his new book - The strange order of things -  at Lisbon's public school holding his name, António Damásio said " (...) without education, men will kill each other."

Click to watch the first lecture of Copernicus Festival 2017 entitled "The Strange Order of Things: Homeostasis, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures" delivered by Antonio Damásio.

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