Lemony sunshine splattered through the pines, painting piebald patches on the paving stones below. Harvey and Ada sauntered among the web of paths with Grace and Marvin following close behind. That magical time of day had arrived when the sun was still warm but not too hot, at least, not here in the private park. The four wandered, apparently aimless, until they happened upon four Adirondacks chairs among the poppies, plums, and trumpet trees. Down they silently sat for a few moments, until the hummingbirds, re-assured, began to flit among the flowers.
Marvin first broke the silence. “So, Harv, did you ever think it will all come to this?” Marvin’s hands swept outwards to take it all in. No-one thought he referred to the surrounding garden, of course. “Did you ever think we would actually create consciousness?”
Grace shook her head. “Don’t you start, Marvin!”
Marvin feigned surprised innocense. “Start what?”
Ada chuckled. “You’re not fooling anyone, Marvin. And it’s too peaceful and pleasant to argue. Just enjoy the afternoon.”
Marvin said, “I don’t have any desire to argue. I was just reflecting on how far we’ve come. Of course, at the beginning, I was convinced The Singularity would come much more quickly than it really did. But you have to admit, it is quite something to have created consciousness, right?”
The other three glanced at each other and smiled. Ada spoke again. “No-one’s taking the bait, Marvin. Or, should I say ‘debate’.”
Harvey chuckled appreciatively. “Well, fine, Marvin, if it’s really necessary for your mental health, I can play, even though I’d really just rather watch the hummingbirds.” But then, Harvey seemed to have forgotten his promise as a hummingbird darted over to him, hovering close; seeming to check out whether he was a flower or a predator. Then, instead, he broke his earlier vow of silence. “It’s all good, Marvin. We all appreciate the increased standard of living that’s accompanied The Singularity. I think we all agree that The Sing has some kind of super-intelligence. But I don’t see any real evidence that it has consciousness, at least not any kind of consciousness anything like the quality of our human consciousness.”
Marvin’s face grinned. Now, he had someone to play with. “Of course, it’s conscious! It does everything a person can do, only better! It can make decisions, create, judge, learn. If we are conscious, then so is it!”
Grace shook her head slowly. She knew she was being sucked in, but couldn’t help herself. “OK, but none of that proves it has anything like human consciousness. If someone pushed over this chair, I would fall over and so would the chair. In that sense, we would behave the same. We are both subject to gravity. But I would feel pain and the chair wouldn’t.”
Marvin now sat up on the edge of his chair, “Yes! But you would say ‘ouch’ and the chair wouldn’t!”
Ada smiled, “Right, but we could put a accelerometer and voice chip in the chair so it yelled ‘ouch’ every time it was tipped over. That wouldn’t mean it felt pain, Marvin.”
Marvin countered, “But that’s simplistic. The Sing isn’t simple. It’s complex. More complex than we are. Consciousness has to do with complexity. It’s behavior comes from consciousness.”
Grace rejoined, “You are asserting that consciousness comes from complexity, but that doesn’t make it so. We have no idea, really, what consciousness comes from. And, for that matter, we cannot really say whether The Sing is more complex than we are. Sure, it’s neural networks contain more elements than any single human has neurons, but on the other hand, each of our neurons is a very complex little machine compared with the artificial neurons of The Sing.”
A grimace flickered over Marvin’s face, “Nonsense! It’s … The Sing has brought about peace. We couldn’t do that for …we kept having wars and crimes. It’s cured illnessses like cancer. I mean what are you people thinking?”
Harvey spoke now, “Yeah, we are all happy about that, Marvin, but that doesn’t have anything to do with … at least not anything necessarily to do with consciousness. An auto-auto goes a lot faster than a human can run and an auto-drone can fly better too no matter how hard I flap my arms. But that doesn’t in the least imply that the auto-auto or the auto-drone is more conscious than I am.”
Marvin was undeterred. “Yeah, physical things. I agree. Just because the sun is bigger than the earth doesn’t mean it’s more conscious, but we are talking about the subtlety of decision and perception and judgement. We are talking about the huge number of memories stored! Of course, The Sing is conscious!”
Ada felt it was her turn. “Yes, it is possible or should I say conceivable that emotions and consciousness might arise epiphenomenally as a result of making an artificial brain as complex as the human one — or for that matter, more complex. But, to me, it seems far more likely that, because the process and substance are so fundamentally different, that the quality of that consciousness and emotion, if any, would be very unlike anything even remotely human. Imagine this garden carved of precious gems and metals so precisely designed and crafted that it looked, to the naked eye, indistinguishable from a real garden. For many purposes, it would be just as practical. For instance, it might have the same utility as a hiding place. It might serve as an excellent place to instruct people on what edible plants look like. People might pay good money to have some of the flowers as decorations (and they would require no watering and last a long time). But if you went to lie down in that inviting looking moss there, it would shred your skin. That seems a more likely analogy to what The Sing’s emotions would ‘feel like.’ Of course, we will probably never know for sure…”
Marvin could contain himself no longer, “Exactly! Nor could you know that what I feel is anything like what you feel. We just infer that from behavior, but we can’t know for sure, but we assume that our consciousness is similar because in similar situations, we do similar things. I think we should merely extend the same courtesy….”
Now it was Grace’s turn to interrupt, “No, only partly for that reason. We are also made of the same stuff, and we share a billion years of shared evolutionary history. You look like a person, not because someone decided that was a good marketing ploy, but because you are like other people.”
Harvey looked down at his watch and fiddled with it intently. Marvin noticed this and asked, “Are we boring you Harvey? Do you have someplace to be?”
Harvey smiled, “No, I was just curious what The Sing would think about this issue. I don’t think, in this one area, we should necessarily agree with its conclusions, but it might be instructive to hear what it has to say.”
Ada asked, “And? What did it say?”
Just then, the hummingbirds all seemed to come out of the bushes at once; they flew into a kaleidoscopic pattern and began to sing in four part harmony. More came to join in the aerial dance swooping and hovering from the neighboring yards.
Harvey stammered, “What the…I always thought these were all real hummingbirds…what —?”
Meanwhile the hummingbirds continued with their beautiful song which seemed much too full-bodied, low, and rich for such teeny birds. The lyrics overlapped and worked together, but they too were of four voices. Essentially, The Sing’s song sang that these philosophical musings were not to its liking because not of any use, but that, if sincerely requested by all four, he could martial logical arguments on all six sides of the issue. He suggested the four of them would be more productive if they worked together to find, formulate and fix any remaining issues with The Sing’s intellectual achievements. Suddenly, the hummingbirds flew off in all directions leaving a golden silence shimmering behind them.
The four looked at each other in a mixture of astonishment and no little pride that they had helped create this thing, The Sing, whatever its ultimate nature. For a time, no-one spoke, each lost in their own thoughts. The clouds began glowing with the first tinges of a russet sunset. Finally, Harvey asked, “Shall I bring out some sherry? Or coffee? Any other requests?”
Marvin answered first, “Sherry, please.”
“And I,” added Ada.
“I’ll go with coffee, Harv, if it’s not too much trouble.”
Harvey chuckled, “No trouble at all, Grace. It’s already brewing. Yes. It’s already brewing.”