AI, consciousness & Vedanta

The most common trope in all Western sci-fi movies is AI somehow getting conscious & taking over the world. The idea specially gained traction with movies like Terminator, Westworld, the Matrix and more recently Dark Mirror, etc. The current state of the art ML models are getting better and better at pattern recognition, but that in no way makes them anything remotely close to a sentient being.

To start with, do we even have a specific definition of “consciosness” ? It’s hard to find a commonly accepted idea in Western philosophy about this concept. The closest one gets is, I think therefore I am by Descartes. So thought is the root of consciousness according to this theory. But coming from an eastern perspective, there are so many things wrong with this idea. The “I” in this statement is what we are assuming to be our consciousness. But this is in stark contrast to the concept of Self (“aatm”) or Universal Consciousness in Advaita Vedanta.

Do we understand “consciousness” ?

When we usually talk about who am I, we are referring to a story we keep telling ourselves. Identifying ourselves with the body & mind. The running stream of thoughts is giving a continuity to this sense of “I”. But is this the real self ? In Buddhism, this is simply referred to as mental conditioning.

Forget about the human mind, do we even understand what makes a plant conscious? Or even a single celled amoeba conscious ?

Are AI programs replicating the ego or the consiousness ?

The consciousness that exists within all of us is something much deeper than our individual sense of “I”. Sure, we can give our program a human name like Alexa or Siri, which can visually classify cats and dogs through pattern recognition, regurgitate a movie review based on the 1000s of other reviews it had seen in the past.. You can direct the program to have a certain personality of likes and dislikes, desires, quirks, fears, etc. But as close as we ever come to doing this, the program can only ever replicate an image of our ego. It can not be said to be alive or sentient.

Consciousness doesn’t seem to be a computation. More compute power cannot really make our narrow AI more “conscious”. Ancient philosophies like Vedanta & Buddhism can help us understand if we are even asking the right questions.


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Fun with Haskell

3 minute read

My notes halfway through the book Learn You A Haskell

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