How Conscious Is Your Robot?
By Bryan Caplan
Now that I’ve studied the article that inspired Robin’s recent bet, I’m completely flabbergasted by his reaction. Here’s the key figure in the original paper, showing how respondents ranked the mentality of thirteen characters.
The Experience factor explains 88% of the variance; Agency comes in a remote second, with 8% of the variance. And on the Experience factor, the robot is virtually at 0. Apparently most people (correctly, in my view) don’t think he’s conscious at all.
Yet here’s how Robin reads the results. He’s in blockquotes; my commentary isn’t.
I’m also pretty sure that while the “robot” in the study was rated low
on experience, that was because it was rated low on capacities like for
pain, pleasure, rage, desire, and personality.
He wasn’t just rated “low.” He was rated near-zero.
Ems, being more
articulate and expressive than most humans, could quickly convince most
biological humans that they act very much like creatures with such
How badly would the robot’s mentality scores have to be to make Robin say the opposite?
You might claim that humans will all insist on rating
anything not made of biochemicals as all very low on all such
capacities, but that is not what we see in the above survey…
Actually, every living character made out of biochemicals scored at the mid-point or higher on Experience. Respondents rated a dead body higher in Experience than a functioning robot. A dead body! The only creature in the robot’s league was God himself, who is also generally not supposed to be made out of biochemicals.
P.S. At this point, I would be willing to bet that if the same study were re-done with an “em” character added, the em would score less than .6 on the Experience factor on a 0-1 scale. Note: .5 is roughly the score of a fetus or someone in a permanent vegetative state. Per my original reservations, however, I would not bet more than $500 at even odds. Robin doesn’t care for this bet, but so far we haven’t been able to work out anything mutually acceptable.