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Decoding Consciousness: Musings on intelligence-real and artificial

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In her article, "Decoding Consciousness", which first appeared in the souvenir of Dr. Parnekar Life Management Foundation, Singapore, Dr. Sharda Bapat explores and expounds her thoughts about machine learning and "artificial consciousness. She envisions hope that the collective intelligence can be directed towards harmony and synchronized development of human intellect,physical and psychological realities. But cautious, that the challenge is to create appropriate technologies that will restore natural equilibrium.

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Decoding Consciousness: Musings on intelligence-real and artificial

  1. 1. Emergence of the internet and digital technology has brought about a revolution in the scientic world. Advances in science and technology invariably bring with them ethical, spiritual and philosophical dilemmas. Technology is rapidly changing our lives. The faster the change, more difcult it is to cope due to desynchronized developments in mental, physical and external world. The internet brought in the information explosion. It democratized information and made 'knowledge' more accessible. It also established unprecedented communication channels. This has facilitated progress in other elds of science. One of the areas that rapidly became popular in recent times is the eld of machine learning. Machine learning/deep learning techniques have the ability to recognise patterns from data and learn from them. While supervised learning is useful for inferring a function from 'labelled data', unsupervised learning helps infer a function from unlabelled data. Thus, these techniques are approaches to 'articial intelligence' that process data through internal interconnections creating ability to learn and mimic humanlike actions, reasoning and problem solving e.g. read and interpret radiological images. Machine learning is also helping to gain valuable insights that were out of reach so far, from huge amount of data generated in today's digital world. Appropriate use of such technologies can democratise healthcare. Success of machine learning/deep learning largely depends on the quality of data used for training the models. While our understanding of 'human intelligence' is incomplete, the data we use to build our models itself is susceptible to human errors and bias. Therefore, while acknowledging utility and potential the technology offers, we must also accept its inherent limitations at this time. As we understand some facets of 'human intelligence' and try to recreate them through technology, we are already talking about 'articial consciousness'. Do we understand what 'consciousness' is? I don't know but itmanifests all around us through living beings made up of varying number of cells. From a one celled organism, capable of growth and reproduction; to a human being trying to decode 'consciousness' itself. For any living multi-celled organism to live and thrive, a number of intelligent cells have to co-exist, co- ordinate, co-operate. In short, they have to live in harmony with each other and the environment. Human being is said to be a congregation of over 35 trillion cells by one estimate. Each of these cells has dened function and it performs that function with integrity. When you say 'I am so and so', you are actually talking about this congregation or colony of trillions of intelligent individual cells, living in harmony with each other. There are astounding networks, communication channels and regulating mechanism for these trillions of cells to communicate and work in unison as 'you'.However, occasionally something goes wrong and the harmony is disturbed. When your own cells start attacking your other cells, you develop and suffer what is called an 'autoimmune disease' some examples of which are rheumatoid arthritis, alopecia areata, multiple sclerosis , type 1 diabetes. The life cycle of every cell of the body involves growth, accessing and storage of nutrients, division by replication of the DNA and death. Each cell interacts with internal and external environment through surveillance system and receptors. Although most cells differentiate into a particular type of cell of a single organ system, nearly every cell in the body has the same DNA (the blueprint of life). Depending on the circumstances, it determines appropriate course of action and is able to activate appropriate pathway. It also chooses a pathway to 'apoptosis' at appropriate time- a pathway to programmed cell death or in other words, a physiological process of cell suicide! There are complicated mechanisms to balance proliferation of cells and cell deaths. When an error occurs in these mechanisms, some cells start Decoding Consciousness Dr. Sharda Bapat Head of AI in Healthcare at AngloAnalytics Pvt Ltd Page 10
  2. 2. to divide uncontrollably. They proliferate rapidly and form what is broadly called 'a tumour'. If it has the ability to spread to distant locations or invade other tissues, it is called cancer! Cancer cells not only divide uncontrollably, they usurp body's energy reserves causing death of other cells leading to death of the human being. In short, the survival of a human being as far as the internal environment is concerned, depends not on each cell trying to compete, ght and win but harmonious co-existence of all the individual cells. Could this be true then in the external environment as well? Modern civilization seems to be taking us in the opposite direction. We are residing on a living planet! Human race seem to be proliferating uncontrollably and usurping nite resources of the planet. It has also invaded and altered the habitat of all other species. Human population growth and proigate consumption are believed to be the major drivers of th climate change and ongoing 6 mass extinction. We are seeing the devastating effects of broken links in interconnections between life systems e.g. Pollination by insects and food production. Before we could rejoice the victory against infectious diseases, there is rise of the superbug and other diseases of 'civilization'. We are waging war against nature, our dwelling place, in our greed and hubris. We are breaking down something we have no idea how to reassemble. From that perspective, animals other than humans seem more civilized and 'intelligent'. Human intelligence is perceived largely to be the function of human brain which we are trying to mimic in our quest for 'articial intelligence'. The human brain has some 100 billion cells each one in communication with tens of thousands of other cells through synapses. There is evidence to believe that there is genetic transmission of sophisticated knowledge well-beyond instincts. Machine learning has considerable potential for use in coping with data explosion in evolutionary genomics and other areas of genetics. The internet itself seems to mimic the synapses in the brain and therefore, capable of manifesting 'collective intelligence' and 'collective consciousness' of the human race. The challenge before the young entrepreneurs and thought leaders of today is to direct this collective intelligence towards harmony and synchronized development of human intellect, physical and psychological realities. The challenge is create appropriate technologies that will restore natural equilibrium. The good news is nature is resilient and given a chance just might spring back. The good news is technology has connected whole of the world and a concerted effort is possible. That will need a profound change in our ideals, belief systems and priorities. We must act now since 'window for effective action is short'. We must prove ourselves to be the 'intelligent' species and survive to pursue our quest for 'articial intelligence'. We will surely evolve in the process and become excellent data points for that future super-processor. And then, who knows, the articial consciousness really might emerge! With Best Compliments From Page 11

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