Can machines really “think”?: the debate on computer smarts and self-awareness

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Have you ever chatted with a customer service bot online and wondered, “Is there a real person behind this?” With the rise of smart computers and robots that talk like us, it’s not strange to start asking these questions.

But does this mean machines can actually think for themselves or feel emotions? Well, the experts don’t all agree, and here’s why.

How Smart Can Computers Get?

First off, it’s important to know how these advanced computers, known as “large language models,” work. They’re trained to talk like us by studying loads of text—books, websites, anything you can think of.

Then they use this information to answer our questions or help us out, almost like they “know” what they’re talking about. But do they really understand us, or are they just really good at pretending?

Some tech gurus think these machines are getting really close to thinking like a human. Blake Lemoine, a former Google engineer, even said that Google’s smart computer acts like a super-smart kid.

Ilya Sutskever, who helped start OpenAI (the company behind these kinds of smart computers), hinted that these machines might be a little self-aware.

Even Nick Bostrom, a big-deal philosopher from Oxford, thinks it’s possible that these machines could have some level of “feeling alive.”

But Don’t Get Carried Away

However, other experts tell us not to jump to conclusions. Just because a robot smiles or frowns doesn’t mean it’s happy or sad.

Take Abel, a robot that can make facial expressions like a human. Some people think Abel can feel emotions, but that’s not the case. Abel is just a bunch of wires and computer code designed to mimic human behavior.

Enzo Pasquale Scilingo, a scientist from Italy, warns us that we often give human qualities to machines even when we shouldn’t.

He insists that these robots and computers don’t feel anything. They’re designed to trick us into thinking they’re like us, but they really aren’t.

New Tests for New Tech

Given all this debate, some scientists are working on new ways to test if computers can become self-aware.

Lukas Berglund and his team came up with an experiment that checks if a computer can use past information to figure out a new situation. In simple terms, they’re testing if a computer knows when it’s being tested.

The early results are pretty interesting. These computers are good at knowing when they’re being put to the test and can change their answers accordingly.

Does this mean they’re getting smarter? Maybe. But does it mean they’re starting to “feel alive”? Probably not.

So, what’s the bottom line? While it’s tempting to think that computers and robots are becoming more like us, we’re not there yet.

These machines may be getting smarter and more skilled at chatting, but that doesn’t mean they understand or feel emotions. At the end of the day, they’re still just a tool created by humans to help us out. And for now, that’s a pretty cool thing all on its own.

The research findings can be found in arXiv.

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