Thoughts on economics and liberty

Singularity is ONLY about intelligence. Conscious computers are a million years away.

Consciousness is not a program but a set of feelings that arise from millions, even trillions of life-preserving ‘programs’ (in the case of man). It is an EVOLUTIONARY outcome, not an outcome of intelligent design.

Only living things can ‘feel’, for these (feelings) are biofeedback signals of various elements of the “life” program.

So here is further proof that Kurzweil is wrong about the Singularity representing consciousness. It is ONLY about intelligence, which is but a minor sub-set of the processes that protect our existence. I have no doubt that computers can become intelligent (in a SUBSET of the fields of intelligence) by 2040. They will therefore help expand the mind of man. But will NOT take over mankind.


Sanjeev Sabhlok

I CAN’T AGREE WITH KURZWEIL ON THIS. I disagree with his definition of consciousness. “Intelligence” is not consciousness.


“When computers do reach the stage that they can compete with, or outstrip, humans in intelligence, Kurzweil said that he is ready to accept them as conscious beings. There is no experiment that can be run to determine if an entity is conscious, he said, but robots and computers will likely someday claim to be experiencing it. He described accepting their consciousness as a “leap of faith” that other people will take too.”  [Source]

Sharad Bailur How do you know that I am conscious? The concept itself is subjective. Hence the Turing test and other such attempts. We may never know that a computer is conscious except when it tells us so. And since we built it we may not recognise its telling us so, as consciousness. This is an issue that needs to be solved first before we talk about consciousness. But then it takes us iinto philosophy iin the absence of other tools.

Sanjeev Sabhlok “How do you know that I am conscious?” I’ve dealt with extensively on my blog recently. Basically, life (from which originates any form of consciousness) has a will to live.

You have a will to live. You know that “you” exist and will fight to defend your existence. I explained this in a number of contexts, e.g. Deepak Chopra’s challenge to Randi, etc. Let me link a few blog posts on this topic.

All properties of life are crucial in any organism that claims to have consciousness. Being “conscious” without having the ability to act, to defend, to self-sustain, is not possible. That (AI) is a mere appendage of the human being.

Sharad Bailur I am not sure that a desire for survival ( or will to live as you call it) is an indication of consciousness. A desire for survival can be programmed into a computer. In fact Asimov based one of his three laws on it.

Sanjeev Sabhlok Desire for survival is not a conscious “desire” alone – it is an urge at a level far more fundamental. It harks back to the concept of life itself. There are many other characteristics that underpin the “feeling” called consciousness. Just solving problems is not consciousness. A complete sense – and “innate” need – of independent existence is crucial.

Bhagwad Jal Park Yup, the “desire for survival” is a behavior that can I can write a (sufficiently advanced) program to emulate. In fact, this whole point is a bit moot. You can claim that I’m conscious, but you have no proof. On the other hand, I can say that I’m the only person in the whole world who is conscious. The rest of you just act like it .

More importantly, we ourselves are machines. Incredibly complex and sophisticated no doubt. But still machines. Unless one starts talking about things like the “soul” etc.

Sanjeev Sabhlok Bhagwad Jal Park, you missed the point. Consciousness is definitely a program of some sort, but it is not something that is “written”, it evolves – through evolutionary fight for survival.

Bhagwad Jal Park Sanjeev Sabhlok If nature evolves it, we can create it given the right tools. The brain is just a physical machine after all no?

Sanjeev Sabhlok The brain is a machine with a PURPOSE. It is an evolutionary tool designed to propagate life. It doesn’t exist in isolation, like a “stand-alone” computer.

Bhagwad Jal Park The brain’s drive is to make us have sex. Having children is a side effect. The brain doesn’t care if we procreate or not. As far as nature is concerned, sex is good enough. It’s a different matter that we have cheated nature via contraceptives! There is no “purpose”, no intelligent design. Without intelligent design, there cannot be a purpose. By pure chance, the drive to have sex aids procreation, so those genes got passed on. There is no guiding hand here.

Sanjeev Sabhlok “The brain doesn’t care if we procreate or not”. Bhagwad, I trust you are fully on top of evolutionary theory. It is NOT that any creature “decides” to reproduce in order to pass on its genes. Instead, ONLY those creatures that succeed in passing on their genes get to do anything in the future. We only see those that succeeded: hence only those behaviours that lead to success survive. Others die out.

I don’t mean that a “purpose” in the sense of “intelligent design”, but in the sense of the logic of evolution: only those creatures that survive and reproduce get to live. This business is purely driven by FITNESS, not by “design”.

Consciousness is but a small TOOL to survive into the future. It is like having leg or tail. Just one more evolutionary tool. A tool created for a specific “purpose” (in the evolutionary sense!).

There is no underlying logic for AI to survive into the future as a separate entity. If any AI robot tries to dominate me, I’ll “kill” it by switching off its power – or otherwise sabotage it.

Since the AI machine was not evolved into its current form (at singularity) but created through “Intelligent design”, it is NOT based on the principle of fitness. Hence its “consciousness” is just a program, not an evolutionary tool.

Unless it demonstrates an ability (and determination) to conquer mankind and possibly enslave it, all AI will be mere automation: an appendage of man.

Only if it is determined to survive on its own, to pass on its ‘genes’ (in the evolutionary, not “intelligent design” sense) and DOMINATE other creatures, will it display “consciousness” in the wakeful human sense of the word.

Bhagwad Jal Park I agree with most of what you say. There is indeed no “decision” to reproduce. Similarly, no creature “wants” to pass on its genes either. All creatures care about is having sex which so happens to pass on genes. One can say that the desire to have sex is directly linked to “fitness”.

Consciousness is definitely an evolutionary tool. But if we understand how that tool works (and there’s no reason why we will not be able to do so), there’s nothing to stop us from transferring that tool onto any mechanical device if we know how.

Also, a machine can be conscious and STILL be an appendage of man. Unless some scientist or programmer decides to program it to survive and reproduce, or whatever. Which might very well happen. In fact, I don’t see how it can NOT happen.

I can very well program a creature with an imperative – “go forth and reproduce”! No one is stopping me.


MY LAST COMMENT: I am glad that Bhagwad agrees that consciousness is not a simple ‘program’ but an evolutionary tool to preserve life.  I think Bhagawad is being arrogant to imagine that he can “program” something to reproduce and give it the properties and ‘needs’ of life.

I am pushing that event back another million years. This is not to prevent people from writing such programs or making progress. Simply that this is not something that will happen soon.



“Consciousness is … something physical. Consciousness is always supervening onto the physical. But it takes a particular type of hardware to instantiate it. A computer made up of transistors, moving charge on and off a gate, with each gate being connected to a small number of other gates, is just a very different cause-and-effect structure than what we have in the brain, where you have one neuron connected to 10,000 input neurons and projecting to 10,000 other neurons. But if you were to build the computer in the appropriate way, like a neuromorphic computer [see “Thinking in Silicon”], it could be conscious.” [Source]


This is useful discussion by Russ Roberts based on his talk with Nick Bostrom. I agree with Russ. HUGE difference between AI and independent consciousness and existence (life). I’m keen to dump my brain onto a computer, but that will never be me. For I both grow and shrink, both learn and forget at the same time. I’m never the same twice, but I’m still the same.


My comment on this article: Why can’t the world’s greatest minds solve the mystery of consciousness

Because it is driven by hundreds of millions of years survival as a group of cells. It is the underpinning of the coordination between the  trillions of our cells. It is not the signal, nor its reception, or storage. It is (Part 1) the interpretation of ALL signals at the same time, based on deep heuristics embedded in our DNA, and (Part 2) an ongoing (superficial – with 99 per cent of the work happening sub-consciously) mechanism to advance our survival.


Science fiction is partly responsible for these fears. A common trope works as follows.

Step 1: Humans create AI to perform some unpleasant or difficult task.

Step 2: The AI becomes conscious.

Step 3: The AI decides to kill us all.

As science fiction, such stories can be great fun. As science fact, the narrative is suspect, especially around Step 2, which assumes that by synthesising intelligence, we will somehow automatically, or accidentally, create consciousness. I call this the consciousness fallacy.

It seems plausible at first, but the evidence doesn’t support it. [Source]

ADDENDUM 9 January 2017

As the article states: “We are organisms, not computers. Get over it.”

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Sanjeev Sabhlok

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9 thoughts on “Singularity is ONLY about intelligence. Conscious computers are a million years away.
  1. anupam

    A feeling like a thought is just a process which is eletrical in nature.I think computer will able to imitate human emotions and hence become intelligent,but they will not have the meaning of emotions.Consciousness gives meaning to things,without it thoughts and feelings are just mechanical processes.So if some scientist says that computers will possess feelings like humans than they are not completly wrong,But as i said they(robot) will not be able to appreciate their feelings like humans do because we have something immaterial in us ie MEANING rest every thing thoughts,feelings emotions sensations are material.

  2. Prakash

    Intelligence is mostly efficient modelling and quick updating of beliefs.
    You don’t need to give an AI computer a “will to live” for it to become very dangerous. All you need to do is to give it a goal. If the goal happens to be one that is unbounded in any fashion, then any generally intelligent AI will deduce the primitive concepts of space, time, matter, energy, survival. That is all that it needs to be aware of to connect the dots and start the process of ensuring its survival.

    You may say that it is not the machine’s consciousness that is dominating you, but it is the will that the original programmer built into it that is doing that. But does it matter? Does it matter to the fellow who is getting bombed in pakistan whether the bomber is a remote controlled drone or auto-controllled drone programmed with certain patterns that it has to sense and bomb? Or similarly, if you stand in front of an automated truck, it will mow you down, it doesn’t need consciousness to do that.

    Switching off the computer’s switch – is that reallly your best argument? You think an intelligent machine would not have a model of you running in its head and be able to anticipate that? It doesn’t require extraordinary brain power to do that. Predators and prey do it (modelling actions of other agents)

    You’re thinking a machine will not stop you from unplugging it, despite it being faster than you in every way, because it doesn’t have an originally biological will to live?

    All it needs to model are 2 states – a state in which that switch is on and a state in which that switch is off. It anticipates meeting its goals in one situation and not meeting it in another. The clear preference is established. No consciousness is necessary. No self awareness is necessary other than a modelling of it’s body and surroundings.

    Please read the steve omohundro paper i linked in the last post you had on this issue.

  3. Bhagwad

    You’re saying that intelligence and consciousness is so complex that it’ll be a million years before we can replicate it. Sure, I don’t think anyone is claiming that consciousness is simple. I think everyone knows and fully appreciates that it’s insanely challenging to replicate it.

    But it seems you have no objection to replicating consciousness in principle. Sure, it may take a long time. I won’t say how long. A “million years” is not something I can even easily imagine, let alone make predictions upon.

    Suffice to say that we don’t know enough. But I don’t think you’re saying that there is some barrier to us gaining that knowledge eventually.

    In which case, we have nothing to disagree over. You’re saying it’ll take a long time. I’m saying it’ll take a long time as well.

  4. Sanjeev Sabhlok

     intelligence and consciousness is so complex that it’ll be a million years before we can replicate it”

    To clarify and repeat, I’ve said that intelligence (in some form – not the comprehensive human form) is DEFINITELY possible by 2014. However, this is “controlled” intelligence, like we may train a dog to do some tricks for our benefit.

    This harnessed AI is not a conscious organism with intent to live on its own with any purpose to “pass on its genes” etc. [purpose being used in the evolutionary sense]. Consciousness is altogether a different kettle of fish and requires a level of independent existence.

    I’ve pushed the consciousness issue into the distant future since I believe it can only be “replicated” through evolutionary processes. The beast that we create must want to live and be independent enough. Once it has such qualities – including adaptability, innovation, “jugaad”, etc. etc. (there are lots of such qualities, I’ve not listed even 1/100th of them) then it may have some consciousness. 

    I’m not saying there is any fundamental barrier to creation fo such consciousness, but the pathway is not likely to be through AI, but through biological processes. And it will take a very long time for any “beast” that we create to be of any substantial threat to mankind.

  5. Alex C.

    > If any AI robot tries to dominate me, I’ll “kill” it by switching off its power – or otherwise sabotage it.

    Not if that robot switches off your power first!

  6. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Alex, you assume that robots will all of a sudden not only become more “intelligent” (which is a very complex term not to be treated trivially like the Turing test) but have access to self-generated energy sources that give them stamina, and to a body system that gives them the power to design/innovate/create all sorts of tools. That this will happen all at once is a delusion. Robots are like primitive toys at the moment, and AI merely a bunch of programs. Let’s not overblow this guy Ray Kurzweil’s claims. He doesn’t know what he is talking about. To the extent he predicted mechanical stuff, he was within his zone of knowledge. 

    I do believe, however, that AUGMENTED humans (with machine implants) will become common – and quite capable of “taking over the earth”. The base will be HUMAN, not machine. But that’s not news. That’s precisely what man has always done – being augmented with tools.


  7. ramesh

    As per science,

    Energy is fact, the truth. So, in principle consciousness is just possible to be created in the lab. Now what form such a consciousness should take will be decided by the human being (a scientist) e.g. a dinosaur, a worm or like thousand handed Vishnu form (divya rupa) etc.

    However the question of the moment will be FOR WHAT (UTILITY) or PURPOSE all this consciousness?

    Answer has to be something of the nature: Happiness, utility, peace or similar (say x). Things like prosperity, wealth, power, fame etc will be nonsense things because these are just mental states and with simple switches in the software of human brain these items will lose their meanings.

    Any other answer, Please?

    Give me just the satisfactory/convincing answer and I will show how the consciousness is created in the lab. I bet Rs. 10000 (this is nominal, right now)

    Ready Dear Sanjeev Sabhlok, Bhagawat, Alex C or anybody else? :)


    [[Clue: Sports creates nothing. It gives us what we already have. There is a temporary ignorance. Matter is creation of such an ignorance and not a creation by the intelligent designer which ignorant people allege.]]

  8. Atul

    –> So, in principle consciousness is just possible to be created in the lab. Now what form such a consciousness should take will be decided by the human being (a scientist) e.g. a dinosaur, a worm or like thousand handed Vishnu form (divya rupa) etc.
    Not really, human can utilize any of the non-deterministic processes, random selections or selective picking from random solutions to create consciousness.

    –>However the question of the moment will be FOR WHAT (UTILITY) or PURPOSE all this consciousness?
    A very stupid question indeed. Who said there needs to be a purpose/the purpose to have consciousness ?

    Recommended books for you dear Ramesh
    1)”On the Origin of Species -by Charles Darwin”
    2)”The Blind Watchmaker” and “The selfish gene” by Richard Dawkins

  9. ramesh

    Dear Atul,

    //A very stupid question indeed. Who said there needs to be a purpose/the purpose to have consciousness ?//

    Please note that I am not saying this:– Whatever the consciousness already is, must have a purpose for its existence.

    Instead I am saying:– If WE are to create consciousness WE must have some purpose for its creation. If we do not have purpose what the hell we are going to create? e.g. every scientific endeavor has at least one purpose ‘understanding better” if not ‘utility’.

    Therefore I agree with you that the very existence of consciousness is without purpose (in fact, that’s vedanta), however CREATION of consciousness must have a purpose (and reason for it). Please note!

    I kindly pray to you to cite the exact reference from the books you referred in this context, if any which PROVES the contrary. Anyway thanks for the reference.

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