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Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being. (Albert Camus)
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    The jest of Onann pt. 1( A Sci-Fi Ultrashort)
    It was said in jest, and it changed all futures.

    It was actually a joke between Professor Alfred Mantis and a second rate journalist for a second rate tech newspaper column in a secondary town. But professor Mantis was the pre-eminent AI researcher at the international development team of artificial intelligence and the chair of the presidential committee for AI techno-ethics and that is no joke.
    It just so happened that he liked to live in this little town where he grew up and teach one class a week in this little known university, of no consequence really. And it so happened that I was a junior assistant in the computer department in that same university, on my way to greatness, just passing the time, until I could get out of there.
    And as his assistant I was also the one in charge of bringing them coffee and pretzels, and that is why I overheard the joke.
    To wit, it was an answer to the question the journalist thought to be interesting and important, which of course it was not, but that is beside the point.

    “ Professor Mantis, do you think there is a real danger in machines becoming conscious and overtaking our humanity?” the journalist pompously asked, to which Prof. Mantis replied in jest: “ not unless they learn to masturbate whilst reciting Keats’s poetry and enjoying Bach’s 5th and more importantly they can get addicted to drugs !” and laughed heartily.
    Though he laughed, the embarrassment of the journalist was obvious, of course he couldn’t print this, so he would just disregard it, which is what he did in the article he published a week later titled : ‘ Merry professor laughs at AI dangers ’.

    Of course I laughed as well, wouldn’t you?

    But later that night in my dorm.. ahhah that’s where it all began…

    Being the type of person that reflects deeply on non-essential issues, I began wondering, why was the joke so funny, idle thoughts at first. But slowly these thoughts coalesced into an ever widening understanding.
    Of course embedded cognition was the issue we were working on, neural networks that mimic the synaptic pathways of the human brain. Visual pattern recognition, deep learning, hyper complex datasets and networked neural architectures were already implemented to a degree allowing machines a rudimentary form of intelligence, task specific obviously.
    The dream of AGI was still a dream, no one had as of yet been able to generalize the higher cognitive functions of a human brain, it was always 25- 30 years away, as it had been for the last half century or so.
    The scale of our research was impressive, we were into everything, but what caught my mind was how far we were behind regarding motion and motility. And yet after remembering Manti’s joke, my mind began to wander and wonder.
    What was it that was so ironic in Mantis’s joke?
    So, not being able to sleep , I took my pad and started scribbling:

    Mantis joke (prediction? Insight? Estimation? Assessment?)
    1. A computer masturbating
    2. A computer reciting (and enjoying?) Keats poetry
    3. A computer listening to Bach 5th ((enjoying?)
    4. A computer getting addicted to drugs?

    The list was the way I was analyzing Mantis’s thought, he was brilliant of course and admittedly had a weird sense of humor, but if I have learned anything, it is to never underestimate a joke made by a brilliant mind, so I asked myself the following questions not even sure I wasn’t myself having a fun and useless time:

    Why wouldn’t a computer masturbate? (obviously it would have to have genitalia for that), but even assuming that we could somehow give it genitalia why would it? Or why wouldn’t it? Obviously our computer department like most in the world of computing was using the mechanistic hypothesis, namely that a computer can and will eventually emerge out of a material artificially constructed substrate just as the human brain as a natural substrate, gives rise to our consciousness. And since that which masturbates in a human, at the final stage of analysis is the brain, why would a computing system, mimicking the neural pathways of a human, not indulge in same? The obvious answer that everyone would give (I assumed, never having asked this question) was that masturbating is an animal behavior that serves no higher cognitive function (doesn’t it?). But even whilst laughing at the absurdity of the question, I had to ask, what if it did?
    And then, not only masturbating, but listening to Bach 5th and enjoying Keats poetry , and by that, assumingly increasing its own pleasure (so the issue is pleasure? What’s between pleasure and consciousness?) What’s between listening to Bach and reciting Keats? Poetry and Music, connection to higher cognitive functions? What about getting high? Why would a computer mimicking the synaptic functionality of the human brain, not get addicted? If its there in the structure of the human brain, would it be the same in a functioning similar system?
    What was the connection? What was the mystery?
    Masturbation (self pleasuring?) Music (self pleasure? Pleasure ‘tout court’?) Poetry (self pleasure, just pleasure? Intellectual masturbation?) Addiction to drugs (again pleasure.. maybe self destructive? But pleasure nevertheless..)
    And then what about other pleasures? Enjoying a steak and chips? A sunset? Petting a dog? And what about a hundred thousands other common, strange or weird human behaviors that gives the human mind pleasure?

    Was I looking at a principle here?

    Obviously Prof. Mantis was basing his ironic jest on some primal presupposition that all the behavioral traits he had mentioned are somehow relegated to the particular construct of a human brain and mind, and by eliminating those from the equation, a computing system might be highly efficient but will not be conscious, and therefore will not compete with humans.
    But I kept coming back to the same question, why would a computing neural network , by necessity not have these traits?
    There was something I was missing here, applying the law of similarity, and the famous “.. if it walks like a cat..” why wouldn’t a computing system mimicking the hyper complex and convoluted neural architecture of a human brain not indulge in these quirks and idiosyncrasies?

    What is going on here? What do all these things have in common? What makes them so ‘human’?

    So at 5 AM I was still on my bed in my dorm room, looking at the notes on my pad:

    1. a system that cannot self stimulate cannot be conscious (and thus cannot have will?)
    2. what is the connection to pain? (it is commonly assumed that if you cannot feel pain, there is no way you could feel pleasure- thus maybe the pleasure issue relates to the computing system not feeling pain?)
    3. what does pleasure serves? In the evolutionary biology sense? What if I gave my computing system the analogue of C-fibers?
    4. What about the concept of stimuli? If I can stimulate my simulation machines will they learn to self stimulate? For that matter, how do humans self stimulate? Is it neural architecture? Is it embodiment? (well yes embodiment has something to do with it. *reflect upon later)
    5. If auto-eroticism is common in the animal kingdom (and it is.. very very much so..), what makes human special in this case (assuming humans are conscious of their own salaciousness)?

    Suddenly I had a billion questions rushing into my head, none of which made perfect sense. What was it about this particular aspect of the human mind that made it so taboo and so desirable? We all know there was more porn on the net than science, we all know that the human is wired for self pleasure, but why? What was the evolutionary purpose and what was the connection to self consciousness, self awareness and more specifically, what was the connection to AI?

    I fell asleep, the deep slumber taking over my ecstatic mind.

    The next morning , tired and excited, since I had slept a few measly hours, I rushed into Prof. Mantis office hurtling and in a loud voice said : “ what if we are going about it completely wrong?” and I must say he was very cool with it, he listened attentively to all I had to say about what went on in my mind after his yesterday’s jest to the journalist and finally with a sigh said: “ my dear young human, you watch too much porn and read too much science fiction.. leave this issue alone if you want to finish your master degree with me, there is nothing there.. that has anything to do with AI or computing for that matter.. this is total rubbish and no serious researcher or serious department will even listen to this non sense, so as a night dream its fun, but as a down to earth approach, in building the next generation of artificial minds this is completely off the charts, leave it, and now also leave me, I got a real AI to build..”

    Crestfallen and deflated I left his office.

    And the building, and the computer department, and the university and in short order I found myself on the bus, I was on my way to MIT, my vision of the night leading me in a kind of frenzy that I never knew I had in me…


    “Ladies and Gentlemen,” the speaker for MIT, Jon Wright ,said to the audience in the small laboratory, “ I am happy to present to you our youngest and most promising Doctor of computing science, Mr. Rajib Horowitz and his Artificial Consciousness program”

    The presentation went well, after the presentation in the back room, it was the scientific advisor of the committee that came to me to ask the tough questions.

    The small man in the impeccable suit, looked at me, took a chair, inviting me to do the same, and in a very gentle voice said:” Doctor Rajib Horowitz, nice name, I gather you are a combination of Jewish and Indian heritage then?”

    I nodded

    “ and so, my dear Doctor, I am here, I have the time, you want the money, now please talk to me, and talk to me in such a fashion as I will have no problems convincing the committee to invest in you and your ..” he paused, “ how shall I put it? Humm.. somehow ‘out of the box’ ideas.. “ and he smiled.

    “Well then” I started..

    “ let me tell you about my theory, and then about my implementations so far and then you decide..”

    “very well, please go on..”

    “ okay, so.. you are going to think I am crazy, as many do, but in my defense I have only one article to show, it sits in the next room, you have just seen the demonstration, and it is a proof of concept but..
    Let me start from the beginning..

    Do you know that amongst the most ancient human relics, we find depictions of man and woman masturbating? Either alone or with the help of someone else? and until today there is no coherent picture and explanation for the reason humans masturbate to such an extent, and to my mind the reason is to do with self representation and forms the basis of consciousness. Or more precisely put, masturbation as an indication pointer of all that is auto-erotic, leading to pleasure, such as listening to Bach, reciting poetry such as Keats, or indeed the addiction to drugs so prevalent amongst humans are all manifestations of a deeper principle of self representation that leads to self awareness and eventually conscious aware beings such as we , humans are.
    In short, we lacked one fundamental understanding about consciousness and self awareness and that is why we couldn’t possibly devise a machine that thinks and feels and is fully similar in this aspect to humans.
    It was the act of self-love, pleasure, auto-eroticism, poetry ,music, art.. all that is involved in the long forgotten art of merging body and mind.
    You see, we had the algorithm of neuro-plasticity in place, we had already created rudimentary forms of cognition by a duplication of synaptic stimuli, and had managed via extended sensory organs to give our machines, a form of embodiment, machines that could read and write, but also view and understand images and pictures, machines that could sense differences in temperatures and volumes of spaces, and machines that had motion, and in a very basic sense, a kind of exploratory feature, curiosity if you like.
    We had hyper complex neural structures that could simulate precisely how life evolves, how the weather changes and how it will change, prediction machines of the first magnitude.
    Some of these machines we embodied in robotic structures able to perceive, sense and react to an immense array of impressions and sensations, identified as raw data and translated to higher cognitive functions, they passed the Turing test, few times over and yet no one was convinced that these machines are truly like us. And they were right, the machines weren’t like us, they lacked a very fundamental sense, not of preservation, that is old stuff, no, not at all.. what these machines lacked was an integrated state, a whole if you like, a self in a sense, but more particularly, the machines lacked self representation.
    Recursive self representation that is, a self representation that merges their robotic bodies with their immense data sets.
    They could see, know what they see, analyze what they see and act accordingly , and still they had no sense of being that is unique and separate from an other. These machines that we had already made, were, to put it in the archaic terms, without a soul and thus to a very large extent without will and self determination and that is why no conscious awareness was present.
    You see, I figured, that as long as the element of pleasure is lacking, a machine cannot possibly develop emotions, feelings yes, but no emotions and if there are no emotions, what we get is a zombie like system, a ‘there is no one at home’ system.
    What we missed about the idea of AI and as a consequence A- consciousness, was the feeling of intimacy a person has with herself, that was my greatest discovery, for without the sense of self-intimacy as a precursor to self-representation there was no glue to bind together the full spectrum of sensations.

    Therefore no coherent picture was created in these artificial brains.
    That is why I started and focused my research on self representation and saw that to gain that self representation in a most intimate way I needed to create a machine that feels itself.
    Much before that, we knew we have to embody the artificial brains in bodies with senses, the problem with this approach was simple when you think about it, all the sensors we embedded in the robots were directed outside and none inside, or unto the robot body itself.
    Of course they had self monitoring sensors, but then I realized that those sensors , extremely efficient as they were, were giving raw data but without the so called qualia.
    We gave them the equivalent of C-fibers so they could feel pain, a neural-synaptic modulator really, but that is unimportant, because still no discernible qualia was present, and it came to me that qualia over and above the information it carries is a foundation for self intimacy, and from there meaningful self representation.

    So how to go about it?

    The key was pleasure , as I said before, but for the pleasure to be actuated in such a fashion as to create the qualia, we needed the brains in those machines to ‘desire’ themselves into being, yes I know when I speak like this everyone rolls their eyes, but do try to follow the logic here.
    The issue I had with my colleagues is that not one, not even one researcher agreed with me.

    But Onann sitting quietly in the other room is proof that pleasure is the key.
    The reason? Simple, the greatest part of intelligence is experience and the greatest part of experience is embodiment, the greatest part of embodiment in turn is feeling, and the highest feeling is pleasure.
    Pleasure of being is the qualia of being, the holy grail of a conscious being, the very foundation of awareness.

    My main thesis if so you could sum up in one statement: consciousness is feeling.

    but that was only the beginning of the idea..

    To be continued..








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    Morningstar     Fri, May 1, 2015  Permanent link
    Hello Wildcat:)
    thank you for this beautiful piece:)
    it brought some questions to mind:

    does this point to saying that without the perception of "self" (moving from 'self intimacy as precursor of self representation' possibly connected to proprioception and generation/appreciation of self pleasure or self-generation/appreciation of pleasure) an AI machine cannot become aware and thus conscious?

    in this case would it be like saying that an AI machine needs the self to develop that qualia needed for awareness, while on a different level the human has been trying to achieve higher forms of awareness or liberation through consciousness, from or through the self?
    how, if at all, do we put the two in relation? :) very intriguing indeed...
    Wildcat     Tue, May 5, 2015  Permanent link
    Thank you for a thoughtful comment Morningstar

    The issues you are pointing at are indeed fundamental to the concept of conscious aware beings.
    The issue of proprioception is one of the most difficult to come to terms with, not only for its mechanism, ( which is poorly understood anyway) but for its implications and consequences.
    More particularly, when understanding the manner in which conscious awareness arises in a particular mind system, the three basic forms of perception: exteroception, by which one perceives the outside world, interoception, by which one perceives pain for example, and finally proprioception by which one perceives her own body in space. Only a coherent combination of the three aspects of perception allow a coherent fashion of the form of the sense allows a sense of self to be correlated into a whole. Therefore in the most basic fashion of understanding , much before we arrive at a coherent conception of conscious self awareness, these need be integrated, so in this sense, yes the AI that my protagonist is building demands these as the initial building blocks, without them no conscious awareness can emerge.

    This however does not yet a self give.

    For a self, a coherent and cognitively embedded self demands a higher set of complexity actuation via the integration what can be called (for lack of a better concept at the moment) sub minds.
    I will expand on the conceptual understanding of sub minds in the next chapter of the story but for now let me say that to my understanding our minds are a construct or patchwork if you prefer of a multiplicity of sub minds, each working in conjunction with the others (mostly not very efficiently- but sufficiently so as to convince us to their apparent coherency).
    Sub minds in this context are the producers of qualia, but it is a disparate qualia, and does not necessarily translate into the sense experience of a whole.
    Qualia needs a context in which it can be cognitively assessed, that is what the so called ‘self’ allows, it is where the description occurs.

    What is the qualia of pleasure without its description?
     
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