About Weak vs. Strong AI Part III: AI Consciousness

This is the third part of an essay that explores the arguments between weak and strong artificial intelligence(AI) models. The first part outlined differences between weak AI models that simulate thinking and strong AI agents that attempt to actually think. The second part presented a framework to evaluate consciousness across species and introduced an argument about the potential of AI consciousness. Today, I would like to dig deeper into the concept of AI consciousness.

Consciousness is one of the most passionate subjects of debate in the AI community. By AI consciousness, we are referring to the ability of an AI agent to be self-aware of its “mental state”. The previous part of this essay introduced a framework pioneered by known physicist Dr. Michio Kaku to evaluate consciousness in four different levels.

In Dr. Kaku’s theory, Level 0 consciousness describes organisms such as plants that evaluate their reality based on a handful of parameters such as temperature. Reptiles and insects exhibit Level 1 consciousness as they create models of the world using new parameters including space. Level 2 consciousness involves creating models of the world based on emotions and the relationship to other species. Mammals are the main group associated with Level 2 consciousness. Finally, we have humans that can be classified at Level 3 consciousness based on models of the world that involve simulations of the future ( read part II of this article).

What About AI Consciouness?

Based on Dr’ Kaku’s consciousness framework we can evaluate the level of consciousness of the current generation of AI technologies. Most experts agree that AI agents today can be classified at Level 1 or very early Level 2 consciousness. Ranking AI agents at Level 1 involves many factors including mobility. Many AI agents today have been able to achieve mobility and develop models of their environment based on the space around them. However, most AI agents have a lot of difficulty operating outside their constrained environment.

Space evaluation is not the only factor placing AI agents at Level I consciousness. The number of feedback loops used to create models is another super important factor to consider. Let’s use image analysis as an example. Even the most advanced vision AI algorithms use a relatively number of small number of feedback loops to recognize objects. If we compare those models with the cognitive abilities and insects and reptiles they seem rather unsophisticated. So yes, the current generation of AI technologies has the level of consciousness of an insect ;)

Getting to Level II

Steadily, some AI technologies have been exhibiting characteristics of Level 2 consciousness. There are several factors contributing to that evolution. AI technologies are getting more advanced understanding and simulating emotions as well as perceiving emotional reactions around them.

In addition to the volution of emotion-based AI techniques, AI agents are getting more efficient operating in group environments on which they need to collaborate or compete among each other in order to survive. In some cases, the group collaboration has even resulted on the creation of new cognitive skills. To see some recent examples of AI agents that have exhibited Level 2 consciousness we can refer to the work of companies such as DeepMind and OpenAI.

Recently, DeepMind conducted experiments on which AI agents needed to live in an environment with limited resources. The AI agents showed different behaviors when resources were abundant than when they were scarce. The behavior changed as the agents needed to interact with each other. Another interesting example can be found on a recent OpenAI simulation experiment on which AI agents were able to create their own language using a small number of symbols in order to better coexist in their environment. Pretty cool huh?

There are still very early days of mainstream AI solutions but enhancing the level of consciousness of AI agents is one of the most important goals of the current generation of AI technology stacks. Level 2 consciousness is the next frontier!

CEO of IntoTheBlock, Chief Scientist at Invector Labs, I write The Sequence Newsletter, Guest lecturer at Columbia University, Angel Investor, Author, Speaker.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store