David Olds – Response to Palensky, Lorenz and Clarici

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009 by Stefan Kohlhauser

David Olds

David Olds

This comprehensive and thoughtful paper by Palensky, Lorenz and Clarici discusses the attempt to use neuropsychoanalytic theory to provide models and questions for the developing undertaking of artificial-intelligence scientists as they increase the effectiveness of machines that provide functions similar to those of the human brain. They give a succinct and sophisticated summary of psychoanalytic theory and its major contemporary variants, a summary compatible with the thinking of most analysts identified as ego psychologists. They give important weight to emotions as part of the cognitive apparatus, since emotions may be needed for the more complicated tasks of sophisticated robots. At the same time they hold the prevailing view that consciousness is an even more complex phenomenon than emotion, but one that we are not yet ready to confront. This commentary will raise a different possibility, namely that we should introduce consciousness into AI thinking, and even into bionic AI machines, from the very beginning. I will try to envision how consciousness could be seen as a kind of affect system that evolution installed very early in the history of motile organisms. The crucial criterion is salience, or “worth attending to;” and this may be as primitive as the basic building blocks of the emotion system, approach and avoidance, which, in mammals, are rooted deep in the brainstem. My hypothesis is that the basics of motivation in motile creatures are approach, avoidance and salience; thus the birth of the motivational system includes a building block of consciousness from very early on. Consciousness, as we know it, evolved in its current complexity from such a beginning. If this is so, then it may be useful to build into our robots a salience device, which will evaluate the importance of things. Even if my argument is completely wrong from an evolutionary point of view, it may still provide for interesting discussion.

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