Pure Awareness and the Ethics of Machine Learning
About the Course
The idea of machines gaining consciousness both enthralls and terrifies. Yet despite various fears, highly-funded AI research ploughs ahead. And as Professor Thomas Metzinger argues, there are serious ethical questions concerning non-biological consciousnesses that are being wilfully ignored by policy-makers and researchers alike. In particular, given that (for humans) conscious experience is also an experience of suffering, why are we so keen to inflict the same fate on machines?
How will we be able to tell that a programme is crying out in pain? Does the suffering of computers matter any less than the suffering of animals, or other conscious beings without a voice? Do the benefits of research for its own sake outweigh the potential harms for the subjects we might create? And what really is suffering, after all?
Thomas Metzinger, Professor of Theoretical Philosophy at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, and a former member of the European Commission's High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence, explains why we should care about computer suffering and what to do about it.
By the end of the course, you will have learned:
- The uncritical motivations of current artificial consciousness research
- What the abstract properties of suffering are
- Why the suffering of machines matters
- What the state of pure awareness feels like
- How to describe the phenomenology of deep meditative states
- What the future of AI and consciousness research must look like
As part of the course there are in-video quiz questions to consolidate your learning, and discussion boards to have your say.
IAI Academy courses are designed to be challenging but accessible to the interested student. No specialist knowledge is required.
About the Instructor
“The conscious experience of being a subject arises when a single organism learns to enslave itself.”
Thomas Metzinger is a philosopher, renowned for his work on philosophy of mind and neuroethics. He is currently Professor of Theoretical Philosophy at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, and a member of the European Commission's High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence. Thomas is also the founder and director of both the MIND group and the MPE Project, whose stated goal is to develop a minimal model of conscious experience. Thomas' book The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self draws on cutting edge neuroscience to a develop a new, radical picture of the relationship between the mind and the world.
"Metzinger is crisp in his arguments and has a keen appreciation of essential ideas" - Mark Kingwell, Bookforum
Part One: Against Synthetic PhenomenologyThe 'truly conscious machine' has long been the subject of philosophical interest. But as this approaches reality, do we have time to weigh up all ethical considerations? Metzinger calls for a moratorium and offers suggestions on how to progress.
Part Two: The Pure Awareness-Experience in MeditationThe simplest form of consciousness is awareness of awareness itself. Metzinger explains the "minimal phenomenal experience" and investigates the character of awareness, before exploring research into the ramifications of artificial self-experience.
Suggested Further Readings
Metzinger writing for IAI News
Why We Should Worry about Computer Suffering
Works mentioned (all open-access, by Thomas Metzinger)
Minimal phenomenal experience: Meditation, tonic alertness, and the phenomenology of “pure” consciousness
Artificial Suffering: An Argument for a Global Moratorium on Synthetic Phenomenology