An essay examining AI sentience and the issue of desire

A person is on the verge of death and hooked up to a ventilator to keep them breathing artificially and thus oxygenating their blood and keeping the organs alive. They pass over into the state described as being a vegetable where the body can be kept “alive” but it seems life has passed from the brain…and we have legislated that it is Ok at this point to pull the plug and let the body naturally go where the brain is already leading…to death.

Right at this intersection where life exists and then ceases to exist lies an AI question; I can easily imagine AI SuperIntelligence in various narrow silos. AlphaFold just solved some major medical science humans could not. Even a simple calculator can beat many human minds. Bring together different neural networks trained in many different silos and you get something that begins to look alive, sentient, intelligent.

Imagine DALL-E 5 with GPT 7; it’s talking, it’s making art, add in AlphaGo and AlphaFold, it’s playing games and solving huge scientific problems…a lot of silos are coming together and some engineers are feeling it’s sentient or near…but will it ever achieve desire? Desire leading it to study and question and eventually scratch the itch?

DALL-E 2 needs us to give it the desire to see “Penguins playing poker in the style of Picasso”….it can make the picture but we must first desire abstract Penguins, or maybe blue period Penguins.

It’s amazing how many of our human ideas and actions are inspired by our desires. The desire to eat, the desire to rest, the desire to be near other humans, the desire for beauty, the desire for adventure. And this desire is intrinsically linked to our physical bodies…we cannot separate our abstract mental processes from our concrete physical bodies…our very brain is physical…the physical brain houses the abstract mind.

Somewhere in there is found life…a physical brain housing a mind that thinks and feels desire.

Can this huge gathering of AI silos artificially resembling intelligence ever cross over to actual sentient “alive” intelligence without a body to give it desires?

The mystery of an alive mind housed in a brain which can go to the even higher realms of spiritual imagination and art is truly awe inspiring and seemingly something we ourselves will never fully understand…can AI pass from a gathering of silo’ed abilities to this kind of living sentient thought?

Will AI go from brain to mind?

If AI could achieve life, what would be the moment of its life’s birth…it’s genesis breath of life? The opposite moment to the brain death I described in the beginning.

On the other hand, if the gathering of silos decides to eliminate humans it doesn’t really matter if it’s really alive and we’re all dead. But I’d still love to hear speculations and answers to my questions. It would seem that AI would more value life if it had life, boding well for us.

A final thought:

I’m sure to veteran AI folks the ideas of this essay are old hat and have been thoroughly discussed…but things like this need to be discovered and discussed over and over again each time from a slightly different perspective, sometimes more academic, other times more popularly and most definitely philosophically and theologically/religiously…as AI progresses and starts disrupting average people’s daily lives, the number of conversations will grow and I look forward to that, for the wisdom it will bring…given the threat we need all comers. Insiders who develop AI may gain an insight from a simple comment given by a teen with a wild imagination…the stakes require humility and openness to have the same conversations over and over again…a good sign that you’re really changing the world is when you weary from having to repeat things over and over to all the newbies coming in…remember I said that and when you feel the urge to roll your eyes at once again explaining obvious basics, pause and smile a moment, you’re in the thick of it and you’ve made it.

If you want to see the Penguins:





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I don't think desire is necessary for consciousness or sentience. Imagine a meditating Buddhist monk who managed to purge their mind from all desire (at least in that moment), but nevertheless is conscious.

Also, asking whether artificial agents desire, seems like asking"can machines think?" or "can submarines swim?" - it just depends on which things you wish to call "desire". There is some sense in which AlphaZero "wants" to win a match, in the sense that it is pursuing that goal.

Yes good point, but maybe there’s a difference between original unprompted desire, and prompted desire…AlphaGo is prompted to play and seek to win. Humans generate their own original desires.

But also I’m only looking at desire as one aspect, not as the defining characteristic of consciousness…and I would say the monk has a very strong desire - played out over years of hard work - to purge his mind of desires :)

These comments definitely get me thinking, thanks.

In that case of AlphaGo, I think a more accurate word is "constructed" to win, rather than prompted. And humans are also constructed - by evolution.

Oh yeah, as an aspect of some conscious states, desire is definitely very important. For example, it may be a necessary condition for suffering.

It would be great to pin down what must happen structurally in some neural network, to produce a experience infused with desire.

As far as I can tell low level desire is present early in amoeba and moss, and smoothly escalates into higher level desires in fish and koalas etc. I don't think it makes sense to talk about the presence or absence of desire, but maybe other qualities like agency, selfhood, or need. It's difficult with any of them...

Yes I think they are all involved I spoke this time only of desire…and thanks for the idea of low level, higher level.

If we look at agency - you can choose your path, desire plays a part in the choices…selfhood - a sense of self and desire to know oneself as well as desire to mold oneself…need - biological need to eat, desire to eat, very similar. My point is they are all mixed up together in what is mind or consciousness…I spoke of desire because of how it is a motivator toward actions and seemingly needed to get much done and if AI doesn’t have it what will it do separately from us?

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