Wanting Can’t be Hard-Coded, but Machines Already Want
March 10, 2014
You can’t program a computer with hard-coded instructions and expect it to be conscious or alive. A computer that just follows coded commands would at best be a philosophical zombie, but a conscious computer must somehow decide for itself what to do. It must pursue its own interests – not because someone told it to, but because it wanted to.
Can you program a computer to want? No. But the good news is that a computer already wants. That’s because wanting is a kind of motivation, or a kind of pressure pushing something forward. And a computer certainly has that! It’s called voltage.
Yes, I’m arguing that the voltage in an electronic computer is “wanting” in the same sense as our own wanting. We humans want because we have neuro-electric flows running through our brains and bodies, powered by the energy we get from eating food. In a similar way, computers have electricity flowing through their circuits, powered by an electrical generator.
The problem, of course, is that computers don’t want anything in particular. When computers follow our commands, the results they produce are an accidental by-product, from the computer’s point of view. They couldn’t care less. And most importantly, computers don’t care if they get turned off or not.
Even worse – we can’t command them to want their own survival, because survival isn’t a specific action. It’s not a programmable function, but it’s more like a state of being. At best we could program a machine to perform various actions that tended to result in its survival, but in that case the machine would still just be following our commands blindly and surviving as a mere accidental by-product.
How can we create true AI? Somehow we need to connect the computer’s inherent “wanting” with its own survival. But again, we can’t do it ourselves. The computer’s own “wanting” must do the programming for itself.
And the way this can happen is only if the computer entity is a neural network that evolves by natural selection. (Lots more discussion in How to Build the AI.)