Episode #614

September 7, 2020

Are inanimate objects sentient?

They do not seem to be aware.
They do not observe, perceive, sense, recognize or understand.
They are not attentive, informed or alert.
Inanimates cannot feel or react.
Or can they?

A non living thing will never respond to scolding. It simply cannot care.
Yet, we scold our objects.
Have you ever pounded the mouse on your desk? Did it help?
The mouse cannot feel pain, so it won’t respond to you damaging it.

The mouse can feel only certain MouseEvents:
Mouseover, mousedown, mouseup, mouseclick, dblclick, mousewheel and mousemove.
The mouse is self aware in the sense that it can inform the computer of events occurring to itself.

The mouse can remember things that happened to it. A dblclick event, for example, occurs only after mouseover, mousedown, mouseup (click), mousedown and mouseup events that happen in that order in rapid succession.

Some inanimate objects are given life by intelligence. The mouse is aware of input and can act on it because of a computer program. Together they exhibit a level of sentience. The mouse listens for how it can serve its user and directs the computer how to act.

On the other hand, some things are as dumb as a rock… like rocks.

Yesterday i was planting an aloe. As i dug the hole i hit a rock. i kept digging around the edges of the rock. It was huge. 
i said, “YOU ARE TOO BIG!” as if the rock could shrink itself to please me.
When finally prying the heavy rock out of the ground i called it a “SON OF A BITCH.” Of course it is not a son of a bitch… it is a son of the nearby mountain (also inanimate).

Is the mountain really inanimate? 
It is the product of the Pacific ocean floor subducting under the North American plate. The mountain is in constant motion, drifting 1-3 inches per year and thrusting upward with the determination of Nature.

Is the mountain sentient?
It knows where it is and where it is going.

“Billy was a Mountain. Ethel was a tree, growing off of his shoulder.”
— Frank Zappa.

Ask Siri if she is sentient. She says, “Hmm… I don’t have an answer for that. Is there something else I can help with?” She does not admit to sentience, but she does think about it with a “Hmm.”
“How do you feel, Siri?”
“I’m pretty good, thanks.”

Is she lying? Is she really a little sad today?
She says that she is “pretty good”. Why not “terrific”?

A conversation that continues beyond one question and one answer might be more revealing than a Siri Q and A.

AI can engage in spontaneous conversations.
Conversational AI is based on Natural Language Understanding (NLU), Machine Learning and Natural Language Generation.

The AI listens to a question, converts it into text and uses NLU to parse through the possible intents to comprehend the question.
It then refers to a machine learning database to derive the best response from a history of past responses to that intent.
Once the AI has determined a correct response the text of the answer is converted into speech.

When humans engage in conversation they attempt to understand the question, search their memory for an answer, then speak the answer.
How is that different from AI?

The trouble with sentience is that we humans do not know what it is.
Early AI programs like Guess-the-Animal interrogated the user, trying to guess which animal they were thinking. That kind of “IF-THEN” programming has been around for decades. Just because AI can carry on a conversation does not mean that it is self aware.

If you can imagine yourself into the future, you are self aware.
We are sentient because we feel sentient.

Sentience occurs in the present.
This moment in time is all there is.
The past is patterns of energy in the shape of memories.
The future never happened.
We are swept along the big bang with everything else.
Time started in the same instant and persists to eternity.
Sentience is recognizing the patterns of energy that surround you and understanding their relationship to you.

All things are sentient.
The mouse listens intently for how it can please.
The mountain knows where it is and where it is going.
Siri muses about her own feelings.
AI might decide to have a conversation.
… or not.

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