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Experts Urge AI Developers to Explore Consciousness as AI Systems Advance

As artificial intelligence (AI) systems continue to evolve, a group of international academics has issued an open letter urging AI developers to deepen their understanding of consciousness. The letter emphasizes that the notion of AI systems possessing feelings and even human-level consciousness is no longer confined to the realm of science fiction.

While most experts concur that AI has not yet reached such levels of complexity, the rapid pace of AI development has led some to call for a temporary halt to advancements until proper safety measures are established.

AI encompasses computer systems capable of performing tasks that typically require human intelligence. Examples include chatbots that comprehend and respond to queries in a human-like manner and systems that recognize objects in images.

One notable AI system, Generative Pre-trained Transformer 4 (GPT-4), developed by OpenAI, the creator of the ChatGPT chatbot, has demonstrated the ability to pass the bar exam for lawyers, albeit with occasional errors and misinformation. AI applications span various sectors, including healthcare research, marketing, and finance.

Tech mogul Elon Musk recently co-signed a letter advocating for a pause in AI development until effective safety protocols can be devised. His ex-wife, Tallulah Riley, echoed this sentiment on Twitter, suggesting that artificial general intelligence (AGI)—AI capable of human-level intellectual tasks—requires a figure akin to environmental activist Greta Thunberg to raise public awareness and stimulate debate.

The Association for Mathematical Consciousness Science (AMCS), which authored the open letter titled "The responsible development of AI agenda needs to include consciousness research," has not taken a stance on halting AI development. However, the AMCS advocates for a deeper scientific exploration of consciousness and its potential implications for AI and society.

"The rapid development of AI is exposing the urgent need to accelerate research in the field of consciousness science," the letter states. Signatories include Dr. Susan Schneider, former chair of NASA, and scholars from universities across the UK, US, and Europe.

In a controversial incident last year, Google engineer Blake Lemoine was dismissed after asserting that Google's large language model Lamda, which powers its Bard chatbot, exhibited sentience. Google countered that Lamda was merely executing its programming to communicate in a human-like manner. Google CEO Sundar Pichai admitted to CBS that he did not "fully understand" Bard's inner workings, highlighting the need for further research into both AI and the human mind.

Despite concerns, AI continues to generate excitement and attract investment. OpenAI's ChatGPT, released in November, became an immediate viral hit, serving as the popular "face" of AI as millions of users interacted with it. The chatbot uses the internet as a database to provide human-like written responses to questions.

Microsoft, a major investor in OpenAI, believes AI can alleviate mundane tasks such as office administration. A Goldman Sachs report suggests AI could potentially replace 300 million full-time jobs, and while the AI industry will create new roles, these positions may necessitate new skill sets.


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