When I first heard the news that a robot had passed an official self-awareness test for the first time I proceeded to retreat to my underground bunker, a structure that I first began to develop upon watching Terminator 2, but only resumed after Stephen Hawking came out and said “seriously, guys, an apocalypse spawned by advanced intelligence really could happen.” I don’t want to exist perpetually in one of those shitty “Real World” scenes from The Matrix, with robots lording over me and roaming about the place like they own everything.
But after I had composed myself and had stopped ringing up my family members to tell them that I love them and that I’d see them on the other side, I realized that actually, this news isn’t that bad. While it is a pretty incredible feat that a robot was able to pass a self-awareness test, its methodology doesn’t exactly suggest that it has developed consciousness and is capable of original thought, but rather it has been created to give the illusion of consciousness.
The test was conducted by roboticists at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, who created a trio of robots that were given the “wise men puzzle” to solve, a classic test used to determine self-awareness in artificially intelligent robots. The puzzle is as follow:
The King called the three wisest men in the country to his court to decide who would become his new advisor. He placed a hat on each of their heads, such that each wise man could see all of the other hats, but none of them could see their own. Each hat was either white or blue. The king gave his word to the wise men that at least one of them was wearing a blue hat – in other words, there could be one, two, or three blue hats, but not zero. The king also announced that the contest would be fair to all three men. The wise men were also forbidden to speak to each other. The king declared that whichever man stood up first and announced the color of his own hat would become his new advisor.’
The puzzle was adapted for the robots by replacing hats with “dumbing pills,” with two of them being told that they had received the pill, which prevented them from being able to speak. After the question “which pill did you receive?” was posited to the trio, one robot stands up before saying “I don’t know.” However, upon hearing its own voice, it retracts its original answer, saying: “Sorry, I know now. I was not given a dumbing pill.”
Watch the test in action below:
While these robots aren’t exhibiting consciousness, they are displaying problem-solving that will prove to be incredibly useful for humans in the future. So while we don’t have to worry about the inevitable A.I. apocalypse just yet, we are on the cusp of having robot butlers being introduced into our lives.
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