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Does a computer know that it’s a computer?

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Despite how frequently computers and robots become self-aware in films, we’re not there yet.

Asked by: Toby Graham, Shrewsbury


Despite all the amazing advances in AI, there’s no computer today that understands that it’s a computer, and understands what that means. Computers generally know very little about the world – they focus on specific sets of data to solve specific problems. What self-awareness or consciousness would mean for a computer is long-debated, and it’s notoriously difficult to create and test.

One of the best examples so far was an experiment in the US in which three robots were given a virtual ‘pill’ which muted just two of them. They were then asked which pill they received. Two remained silent, while one stood up and said “I don’t know,” quickly followed by, “Sorry, I know now. I was able to prove that I was not given the dumbing pill.”


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Dr Peter Bentley is a computer scientist and author who is based at University College London. He is the author of books including 10 Short Lessons in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics and Digital Biology: How nature is transforming our technology and our lives.


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