Cogito? Immo! IMHO

The title roughly translates as “I think? No! In My Humble Opinion” referencing the cartesian Cogito Ergo Sum (I Think Therefore I am). The collection’s first item is a hat tip to Auguste Rodin’s bronze “The Thinker” as a muscular robotic figure embodying AI pondering whether it thinks (with a hint of algorithmic angst).

With all the generative AI vertigo experienced since ChatGPT launched it remains sensible to remember that humans are still coding, building and training the AI. We know AI can learn to do many things but is it consciously thinking and does it understand what it does beyond being, as one commentator has said, merely statistics with attitude? Some have serious concerns around AI developments, and it is worth remembering that Rodin’s The Thinker was made to sit over the lintel of Rodin’s bronze doorway, The Gates of Hell.

Are we then to be damned by AI, machine learning possibly melded and wielded by its overlords to actively threaten or exploit us?

“Back propagation may be a much better learning algorithm than what we’ve got. That’s scary … We have digital computers that can learn more things more quickly and they can instantly teach it to each other. It’s like if people in the room could instantly transfer into my head what they have in theirs.” Geoffrey Hinton. He is worried that the technology is entirely in the hands of a few huge corporations.

Knowledge no longer needs to be a scarce resource and our choices of AI use needs to ensure AI is a blessing not a curse. So we should not worship its algorithms but instead ask ourselves about the choices we make and the ethical intelligence we imbue AI with when we build, train and use it … and maybe learn from the lessons of social media’s societal impacts. We can choose to have AI enable a more equitable, prosperous and hopeful human society bent on repairing the environment’s complex systems for a more sustainable future for all the us on Earth. Humans should and must still do the thinking and consciously choose how to ensure AI leverages our knowledge productively with this mental lever potentially an immense boon to making sense of the unparalleled amount of data we have and continue to collect.

Good to see that you have a greater attention span than that of a gnat! Read on (&/or get curated selection of topical articles, podcasts and documentary videos from

The AI we have is like a computer that can learn and make decisions like a human. It’s like having a digital brain that can process information, recognize patterns, and play Go, chess, draw, produce musical sound … or just recommend recipes and movies. AI is everywhere: in our phones, cars, and even the cute chatbots we talk to online and some even form what they consider relationships with.

Why Is AI Not Conscious?

  1. The Autocomplete Trick:
    • Think of AI as a super-smart autocomplete tool. When you type a message on your phone, it suggests the next word. AI does something similar but on a grand scale.
    • It learns from tons of text, pictures, sounds and other media to predict what comes next. But it doesn’t understand the media —it’s just guessing based on patterns… and we need to ensure we provide enough data diversity for the AI to function as desired.
    • So, AI can seem smart in responding to requests, (when it's is not hallucinating) but it’s not aware of itself or the world, nor does it have an emotional or ethical quotient outside of the parameters its developers have enabled within it. And although AI is getting better human interactional language - our verbal hugging - is still better, allowing us to better express our emotions (eg swearing! no?), synchronize our minds and facilitate the flow of an interaction.
  1. No Feelings, No Self-Awareness:
    • Imagine your favorite song. You feel joy or sadness when you hear it. But AI doesn’t feel anything. It’s like a music player that plays songs without emotions.
    • AI (nor HAL) doesn’t know it exists (yet? Despite being well after 2001). It doesn’t worry about its future or fear being deleted. It’s like a robot that follows instructions without questioning.
  1. The Zombie Computer:
    • AI is like a zombie computer. It does tasks without consciousness. It’s not pondering life’s mysteries; it’s just crunching numbers, incredibly fast.
    • Consciousness is like a secret ingredient missing from AI’s recipe.

More fundamentally a quote of Liad Mudrik, a neuroscientist at Tel Aviv University, captures an important issue:

“Consciousness poses a unique challenge in our attempts to study it, because it’s hard to define. It’s inherently subjective”


Why Doesn’t AI Think?

  1. The Recipe for Thinking:
    • Thinking involves more than just calculations. It’s about understanding, creativity, and intuition.
    • Our brains weave thoughts from memories, emotions, and experiences. AI lacks this rich tapestry.
  1. The Brain vs. The Circuit Board:
    • Our brains have billions of networked neurons, like tiny messengers passing notes. They connect, fire, and create thoughts, in ways we still don’t understand. The brain allows us to not only process information but also to experience the information that we are processing.
    • AI has circuits—like roads on a map. It follows rules but doesn’t think. It’s like a GPS that doesn’t dream of vacations.
  1. The Turing Test:
    • Alan Turing invented the Turing Test. It’s like a game: Can you tell if you’re chatting with a human or AI? And there have been subsequent tests that strive to better detect whether you are interacting with person or an intelligent machine.
    • AI can fool us sometimes, human’s laugh and AI can produce the sound of laughter but it’s not thinking, not experiencing the bubbling of fun. It’s just good at mimicking.

Remember, AI is like a clever parrot, it can mimic, but it’s not writing poetry it understands. So, next time you chat with a chatbot, know that it’s a digital wizard, not someone like Shakespeare the bard pondering life’s mysteries nor someone like Dali waking from semi sleep to sketch!