Blogging Susan Schneider’s “Artificial You”, Part I

I’ve recently started reading Susan Schneider’s new book Artificial You, and have decided to write about it as I go. The subtitle is “AI and the Future of Your Mind,” and it deals with the prospects of conscious AI, and the implications of artificial brain enhancement. Quite a lot has been written and said about superintelligence and strong AI in recent years, but I haven’t come across many popular works that talk about the prospect of artificial consciousness with much depth or sophistication, so I am looking forward to Schneider’s book. I think there is a tendency in the wider conversation to either ignore consciousness, focusing instead on the capabilities and risks of a hypothetical superintelligence, or else to assume that consciousness will “just happen” when an AI system becomes sufficiently complex. Schneider clearly wants to be much more cautious about whether and how an AI could be conscious.

So far I’ve only read the introduction, Chapter 1, and the beginning of Chapter 2. Schneider makes a very good point in the introduction. It’s natural (and good) that the prospect of conscious AI makes us think about how we would treat such an AI, but she argues that we should also think about the risks of developing superintelligent AI systems that are not conscious. The point is that it is our own consciousness as humans that makes us extend compassion and concern for other beings that we believe are conscious. In particular, we extend this to other humans (very similar to us), highly intelligent non-human animals (somewhat similar to us), and less so to other animals. If we develop superintelligent AI systems that lack consciousness, then they would also lack the ability to use that consciousness as a “springboard” for recognizing consciousness in humans and thereby extending compassion to us or feeling affinity for us.

Schneider describes herself as a transhumanist, but she also criticizes the overly optimistic views of transhumanists who think we’ll eventually just be able to upload our minds and live on with something like digital immortality. This rests on a flawed view of how the mind works, and will be discussed in much more detail in the book.

The book promises to be a very good read. Feel free to sound off in the comments or on Twitter if you are also reading the book.