The Indian tradition is replete with modeling of human experience. In the previous post I discussed how Sāṃkhya’s model of mind, body, and consciousness might be used to rethink the conceptualization of evolutionary theory and neuroscience. I argued that the ontology of Sāṃkhya would suggest that the interactions between mind and body are entirely within the scope of “nature” and that “consciousness” is outside this natural system, yet it gives the appearance of consciousness within nature. How might this ontology look at AI?
There are two forms of AI that exist right now of which I am familiar; this discussion excludes the types of AI one might envision we shall develop in the future. The first is neuralinks that would connect the human brain to external computers, phones, machines, bodily limbs, etc.; and the second is independent robots that can execute complex actions and use machine learning. Will we ever see the types of robots in science fiction movies? I do not have a strong view on that, but I do believe that various forms of AI will be used for travel, sales, agriculture, and human services will be used more and more in the near future.
From the perspective of Sāṃkhya, all forms of AI would be considered “natural” in the sense that they part of nature or prakṛti; even human artifacts are still natural in the broad and general sense that Sāṃkhya might be thought about in English. The word “artificial” as it is used in AI often seems to be used in the sense of a human creation that is distinct from the biological structures created by “natural” processes like natural selection.
But I have two specific thoughts on AI. The first is that Sāṃkhya has a robust concept of “intelligence” and in their view the intelligence functions as an entirely natural and yet unconscious manner. The intellect (e.g. buddhi) requires the consciousness to function, but consciousness exists independently from the intellect (the innate features of the consciousness is a matter of discussion among different scholars). Generally speaking, intellect in Sāṃkhya does not imply an independent or self-directed will; its being is activated if and when it is connected to a particular consciousness, but the consciousness is the being that provides intellect with the ability to function in the various ways that it can function. The intellect could not develop a self-reflexive state of awareness, since that portion of cognition is provided by the consciousness which uses or observes the functions of intellect when it is in connection with a natural mind-body complex.
The notion that intelligence functions when in connection with a consciousness brings me to the second thought I have on Sāṃkhya. The ego is what connects the nonphysical and eternal being of the consciousness to the natural and ever changing mind-body complex. The birth of a human or animal in Sāṃkhya is essentially the attachment of a particular consciousness to a particular mind-body complex through the power of the ego. Thus, for Sāṃkhya, the creation of a robot that has AI would require the ego to attach to said robot. The question, then, for Sāṃkhya is: is it possible for humans to create a machine to which a consciousness can attach via the ego?
Readers of this blog, however, must also be familiar with the Buddhist theory of pratītyasaṃutpāda, or the co-dependent origination; the Nyāya theory of the padārtha, or that reality is composed of distinct categories that correspond to specific words; the Vaiśeṣika atomic theory; and there are other theories in Jainism and a wide range of distinctions within those mentioned. Would these conceptual schemes look at AI differently? Would they raise different problems? My goal here was not to go into these theories in any depth, but ask a more general question about the term “artificial” and how that would be thought of in a conceptual scheme that see all forms of intellect as natural; and to think about the problem of the ego as it pertains to the creation of AI machines or robots.