Sci-fi writer Ted Chiang: 'The machines we have now are not conscious'

Chiang is the author of brilliant stories which explore themes of consciousness and free will, including “The Story of Your Life,” which was adapted into the Hollywood movie “Arrival,” starring Amy Adams.

Chiang says machines learn language differently from human children, which leads journalist Madhumita Murgia to talk about how their “five-year-old has taken to inventing little one-line jokes, mostly puns, and testing them out on us. The anecdote makes [Chiang] animated.”

“Your daughter has heard jokes and found them funny. ChatGPT doesn’t find anything funny and it is not trying to be funny. There is a huge social component to what your daughter is doing,” he says.

Meanwhile ChatGPT isn’t “mentally rehearsing things in order to see if it can get a laugh out of you the next time you hang out together”.

… he asks me if I remember the Tom Hanks film Cast Away. On his island, Hanks has a volleyball called Wilson, his only companion, whom he loves. “I think that that is a more useful way to think about these systems,” he tells me. “It doesn’t diminish what Tom Hanks’ character feels about Wilson, because Wilson provided genuine comfort to him. But the thing is that . . . he is projecting on to a volleyball. There’s no one else in there.”…

Mitch W @MitchW