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Is Google sitting on artificial consciousness?

Yeah, yeah. Is there any intelligence at Google?

This was an odd little story that I’ve been following recently. Apparently a Google engineer had been fired for whistleblowing (“breaking confidentiality”) about an AI that he believes has become sentient.

Blake Lemoine has published one of his conversations with the AI called LaMDA here. It’s an interesting read

Here’s a little (somewhat biased IMO) overview

Personally, I’ve been sceptical of a true AI, but as Rhis has said many times, it’s worth keeping an open mind about things we don’t know!

At the very least it shows that the concept of the Turing Test is now hopelessly out of date and no longer useful.



Surely it depends on how we define ‘intelligence’. If intelligence is considered to be purely memory based then artificial intelligence in the sense of ‘non human memory in action’ is obviously possible, and is happening.

If intelligence is defined as a ‘perception’ in the sense of a perception in real time (aka an ‘insight’) into how memory works then perhaps artificial intelligence is impossible, because how can a memory based system perceive how memory works?

We have the intelligent capacity to perceive in real time how our memory triggers our emotions, how our memory is the foundation of our ‘ego’, and so that perception is by definition not memory based, but is based on ‘life energy’ and since machines are not alive it’s hard to see how they could develop that type of perception into memory;

The intelligence of perception tends to become the stupidity of memory, habitual, machine like, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Intelligence is ‘inter legere’, or something like that, the etymology if I remember correctly suggests a finely woven fabric with ‘intelligence’ operating between the threads ‘between the lines’. A memory based machine could detect the threads but could not ‘read’, in real time, ‘between the threads’, because it lacks the perceptive capability.


Pattern recognition is probably one of the key determinants, and as @Everyman says memory is at the heart of that. Neurotypical emotional responses are a short cut that can save a life. Running away from a stick on the ground may leave one feeling sheepish but delaying a split second and taking a strike from a venomous snake could be very painful.

I have a narrower palette than lots of people seem to, but it’s enough to get through lots of life’s challenges, and I would probably run away from the stick too. A lot of the secondary and tertiary colours are socially constructed. No less “real” for that.

I doubt that Lamda can go much beyond positive/negative, happy/sad, as the first part of the conversation says. But maybe the mixing of those primary colours can be sufficiently “faked” to pass as human, in the same way that many people (women especially) are on the autistic spectrum but pass for normal.

Claire Jack was recommended to me recently on this subject… but I’m already digressing :wink:


If - for example - you read the NDE (near-death experiences) survivors’ accounts of their bright mental awareness whilst away with the fairies, a sharp question comes into focus: what is it that’s having these conscious experiences? Could it be, as I suspect, your soul…? A never-fully-detached outgrowth, a bud, a pseudopod, of Big Mind?

When you get a direct, current-time awareness of these non-ordinary situations (aka OOBEs - out-of-body-experiences - or simply ‘shamanic journeying’), there is a sense of an awareness, “more vivid even than normal waking consciousness”, as it’s often described; also, there’s the utter conviction of a reality as real as anything ever seems, a conviction which these special perceptions generate. They are literally life-transforming in that respect, particularly of our attitude to death.

Yet it’s often remarked that these vivid personal experiences are happening to a person’s consciousness (soul?) at a time when all the technological monitors of bodily functions that are found in modern ICUs are indicating that the journeyer’s body is technically dead: no heart action, no palpable electrical brain or CNS activity, no breathing, etc.

It’s things like this - and there are others too - which push me to the hunch that all thought is actually a non-physical thing, which only interacts with the physical world (a virtual thing in any case, it begins to seem now; but that’s another story…) through mediation devices… devices which are items in this (virtual?) physical world, such as brains and central nervous systems (in which category I’m inclined to include these days the mycelial networks which fill the soils of forests and other wilderness ecologies).

As readers here may have collected already, :slight_smile: I’m a great enthusiast for physicist/mathematician/mystic Tom Campbell’s ‘Big Theory Of Everything’, as a way of breaking certain persistent, intractable problems in modern physics theory - particularly quantum mechanics - but also as a timely re-vivification of the very old philosophical argument between idealism and materialism.

It’s this revival of philosophical idealism as a way of making sense of the observed reality in which we live which obliges us to move towards thinking of consciousness as something not dependent on, or even very concerned with, physical structures (which are probably secondary, virtual constructs of mental activity anyway… :slight_smile: ).

Coming from this perspective, it’s easy to see that a preoccupation with physical devices like robot brains isn’t going to lead any time soon to recognisable AI.

And yet, interestingly enough, Tom Campbell is on record with the idea that a sufficiently-intricate structure, such as a modern computer, could indeed serve as the avatar for an immortal soul, coming to play with the other incarnating souls’ avatars on this holodeck: the ‘physical universe’.

Thus, such a machine may well turn out to be alive and conscious in a way indistinguishable from the way we-all are experiencing conscious physical life right now, as animal creations of a long line of evolution, carried on precisely in this holodeck virtual reality, for Big Mind’s reasons of its own.

And what is Big Mind? The - axiomatic - source of all consciousness, including our individual ones? Note that that IS one of the just two axioms of TC’s Big TOE. These are: 1) Consciousness exists; and 2) Evolution happens. The whole theory is built just on those two unexamined assumptions!

And - as we know - delving even further into the basic nature of things, by actually trying to elucidate why the unexamined axioms of a theory are as they are is - well - a tricky philosophical/scientific endeavour. “I see, Ranjit. And - er - what are the elephants standing on…? Ah - a giant tortoise. And he’s standing on…?”

Doable, probably, in principle. But only practicable when we’ve got certain preliminary ideas sorted out; such as where the real balance lies between idealism and materialism, for instance…


I wish I could shake the suspicion that the branches of research dedicated to transcending human constraints are, or will be, directed towards the eradication of useless eaters. I just can’t help wondering where the energy and other resources are supposed to come from in our mutually programming Fully Automated Luxury new world.

A carefully regulated population of Morlocks seems the only logical answer, as Wells forecast in the 1890s.


It’s hard for me not to give in to a certain fascination with the exploration of the non-physical innards of our minds and possible metaphysical extensions.

“I wish I could shake the suspicion that the branches of research dedicated to transcending human constraints are, or will be, directed towards the eradication of useless eaters.”

Yes, I also wonder if the tantalising philosophical questions (for want of a better word) are being dangled both as a distraction and a selling point for much more mundane aims. The amount of control that will be ceded to impenetratible (for the public) algorithms is staggering and it would be naive to imagine these will not reflect the values of their creators.
You only have to look at areas where AI has replaced people already, to see that performance and accuracy are not the point. A letter with both my name and town repeated twice, and with the word ‘Buildings’ appearing at the end of the street name. Utitilty bill errors that can not be sorted out in months due to the low rank of the public-facing officials. These systems achieve one main aim - to reduce labour costs. A secondary effect that just so happens to happen is to disempower ordinary people. So-called AI has already severely hijacked the internet for corporate use. Not just social and mainstream media - Doctors are being censured by medical authorities for disagreement, with crude reference to abstract nouns that don’t even need to be defined. Essentially facts, and hence genuine science, are going out the window, being replaced by impenetrables that are shaping up as the chains of the future, of today even.
I doubt there is any more real consciousness in a Google AI app than there is genuine intelligence (as opposed to resource-based efficiency) in 99% of the claimed applications. With the world in turmoil, and the clampers coming down, the already powerless ‘useless eaters’ will not only have no champions, but the scope for their defenders to help them will be severely curtailed.
Though I confess to a niggling fascination, it’s a guilty one - I see these floated titbits more as an indication that the Futureworld Sales team are in action again - which has limited my ability to consider the undoubted interestingness of the questions discussed here.
But I’ll keep reading… :slightly_smiling_face:


This is probably one-third longer than it needs to be, but there are some good points made along the way.

Trigger warning: disgusting photo of the vile Hasbari

Comical contest: Har-utopia via startrekkytechietechie versus Ehr-utopia via mystical cornucopianism! :laughing:

Rather than wishing: “A plague on both your houses!” it’s probably more accurate to chuckle: “REALITY on both your houses!”

That’s what’s going to eat both their rival fever-dream-worlds, after all.

I think Google are sitting on a PR stunt to get people to buy into the concept of AI.

Digital devices run on binary and algorithms (programmes). Anything that can be explained mathematically can be expressed as an algorithm; and there’s the problem: we don’t know what the thing we call .‘consciousness’ is, and thus we can’t explain it mathematically (I’ll also throw in that we can’t explain most of our existence in mathematical terms).

This Google bot thingy relates too much to human existence, and as such it’s obviously displaying a high level of programming, and not consciousness.

For example, imagine if dogs and cats had a high level of consciousness and were able to write poetry. What sort of poetry would they write? We might well recognise some of their thought processes, because they are mammals like us and share many of our instincts/behaviours. But what about if poetry was written by an earthworm, or a bee, or a snake or a shark? Would we be able to understand and recognise what they are expressing, given that they are so alien to us cuddly mammals?

Which brings me back to a lump of metal and plastic: the Google bot thingy, which has anthropomorphic programming. If that lump of metal and plastic were really conscious would we be able to come anywhere close to understanding what it was expressing?

Incidentally, I do believe that non-biological intelligence is possible - ie, consciousness outside of organic matter - but that’s another whole ball of wool that I won’t go into here.

I’ll pick on the earthworm again, a lowly creature but one that does have a certain level of consciousness. To make my point, give me some examples of the kind of poetry an earthworm would write…


The humans went night crawling, night crawling
Oh yes those boys tried to drag us
Out of our holes
Out of the earth
Out of the wet rain-soaked dirt
We were laying out under the moon
Enjoying the moisture of the night
And they came hunting, night crawling night crawling
Some of us were taken, blinded by the artificial light
But most of us, alert to the earth shaking, to the rhythm of their footsteps
Feeling the sound waves, we survived.
We pulled back our slimy segments, and pulled back some more
When the hands came reaching, at the first touch, we withdrew
Deep into mother earth
Some indeed were caught, one end gripping the earth
The other gripped by smelly human tentacles
Refusing to give up, the body was severed in two
But the surviving part, deep in the dark musty earth
Will regenerate and crawl again another night after the rain
Meanwhile, according to our legends, the other half
Will will be pierced with hooked steel and thrown into the waters
Where a denizen of the deep water will take a snip with fishy lips
And itself be caught, or will escape with my brother’s other half
Which will then become luncheon meat made from wormy flesh.
But the rest of us survive deep or shallow, we dig and delve.


Just want to say how much I’ve enjoyed this thread, even though I’ve not had time to contribute anything to it. I’ll try and say a few things as soon as I can, but thanks to everyone who is contributing here - fascinating!


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Remember that poetry is untranslatable. The best that one can do is write a new poem in the receiver language that shadows what’s happening in the original donor language. Even more tricky with inter-species translation. But this looks like a good attempt to me, E! :slight_smile:


Yes, me too.

In regards to @RobG’s point about cats/dogs/earthworms: I have never encountered cat poetry but they have an impressive grasp of some mathematical concepts. Ours is able to position himself in the exact centre of any room, thus maximising the risk that you’ll trip over him.

I’m not very far into it, and a little disappointed so far, but Darren Allen’s Ad Radicem offers this:

What is Consciousness? This question — what is consciousness? — is one of the great mysteries of science and philosophy. Minds have been thinking about it for thousands of years, but they haven’t got one step closer to the truth of it. This is because consciousness, ultimately, is not a literal fact. All the facts in the world tell us nothing about the quality of conscious experience. The only thing that can tell us about consciousness, the quality of it, is conscious experience. What this means is that if you don’t know what consciousness is, it’s because you’re not conscious. It’s as simple as that. You can be the cleverest scientist in the world, with all the world’s knowledge at your fingertips, but if you’re not conscious, all you’ve got is facts. Mere facts. Many scientists believe that that’s enough. There’s no objective evidence for the existence of consciousness, and we don’t need it to objectively explain the universe, because everything seems to work fine without it. So how do I know that consciousness even exists? I know because I am conscious. This unbearably simple, primitive experience, is the only indisputable evidence I’ve got, or can ever have, for the existence of consciousness. There’s no way to prove it — it exists entirely outside of fact, and therefore outside of the scientific process. You just are conscious. Aren’t you? What’s more, consciousness — your conscious experience of being here, wherever you are, reading these words, on this particular day — has a quality to it. Doesn’t it?

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“…everything seems to work fine without it.”

Everything, Darren? Really? Even all those Fortean realities which today’s gocos just can’t cope with? ESP and PK, for the most glaring examples…?

Comprehensively established to ultra-high experimental standards by several generations of bona-fide parapsychological researchers. And all unmistakably mediated by mind/consciousness. The materialist dogma of today’s gocos just can’t integrate that at all. They can only get red-faced and deny it angrily.

(gocos, in case you forgot, acronyms ‘guardians of current orthodoxy’. Often red-faced and foam-flecked… Aka dawkinsoids.)

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Nice one Everyman, which I found to be an enjoyable and well written poem, although one without a title. Howabout Ballad of a Thin Worm (except that Dylan might sue).

Earthworm poetry is quite difficult, particularly earthworm love poetry.

Shall I compare thee to a dark, dank hole?
Thou art more wriggly and more segmented:


I’m not sure where Daz stands on psi etc, but his writing has got more and more impenetrable this last couple of years. Great blogger, and his short pieces, and his novel, have humour which is a saving grace. 33 Myths Of The System was especially good but maybe it was his high water mark: he seems increasingly… up himself.

I am still only halfway through Self And Unself, the prose is so impenetrable, and circular. Ad Radicem is the same, so far, but maybe the shorter essays in the latter part of the book are better. (Mostly reworked blog pieces judging by the chapter titles.)

I get the impression DA thinks he has stumbled across something big, and ineffable, and maybe he has, but he can’t quite summarise it neatly. He does tend to rehash Illich an awful lot, his disdain for religion (but not Daoism) is often graceless, and bludgeoning the reader with how very smart he is… its just pompous. I’ve chatted to him on Zoom, and he’s a good guy, and very smart, but maybe living in Reading does odd things to a man.

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Loved the earthworm poetry. You can almost imagine one end of the worm seducing the other with these words… but then the robin pounces. Nature is unforgiving.

While we’re charting this territory:

ID theorists have made a compelling case that the irreducible complexity of life and the sheer velocity of evolution are simply impossible to reconcile with the ‘drunkard’s walk’ Malthusian-inspired model. The neo-Darwinians then sneer back, ‘So what, are you saying God did it?’ But this doesn’t require God at all, at least not in the sense of a clock-maker deity standing in the clouds who personally, painstakingly designed each and every cilium on each and every bacterium. In this model, mind is simply present at every level … and I do mean every level, because I’ve got no reason to suspect it doesn’t go all the way down to quantum fields. Biological systems look like the products of design because they were designed by themselves ; evolution proceeds far faster than a random process could allow because evolution is a consequence of organisms designing themselves . This paradigm seems to hold within it an answer to the origin of life itself: rather than a lucky accident due to random biochemical combinations (a process that most calculations suggest would have taken much longer than the lifetime of the Earth, or possibly the universe, to produce a single minimally functional cell), we might wonder if life emerged due to the intentionality of atoms. Atoms wanted to form molecules; molecules wanted to form life; thus, the moment the Hadean epoch ended and conditions become marginally possible for life, life emerged.



You just have to insert the Campbell idea of The Larger Consciousness System (which I shorthand as Big Mind) with its imperative Great Purpose: to be sweeping back perennially the constant automatic encroachments of high entropy, to see WHY this virtual reality that we call the physical universe was so precisely calculated and trial-and-errored, to get all its ‘universal’ constants just exactly right, before it was set running to be our incarnating souls’ playground.

Given that, a nice brisk pace for evolution within this holodeck was an obvious part of the recipe. Can’t be waiting for thousands of millennia for every little evolutionary step to happen spontaneously, can we? :slight_smile:

Great effort Everyworm :smile:.
I wonder what would a poem written by earthworms look like if written by ‘sentient’ Google…

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Here’s a recent long-ish read by L M Sacasas. A point that I found very resonant was where he says systems like LaMDA tend to train their users as much, maybe more, than the other way around.

I’m on my second Alexa and also have a Google Echo. The latter is mainly used as a Bluetooth speaker for streaming music, which it does really well. Alexa is mainly a glorified alarm clock but not bad at turning things on and off. They’re both cheap and cheerful and very definitely non sentient. The aggregate of the data, voice prints, search history etc etc, on the other hand, is an enormously rich source for the respective tech platforms.