basiles writes "Jacques Pitrat's new book Artificial Ethics: Moral Conscience, Awareness and Consciencousness will be of interest to anyone who likes robotics, software, artificial intelligence, cognitive science and science-fiction. The book talks about artificial consciousness in a way that can be enjoyed by experts in the field or your average science fiction geek. I believe that people who enjoyed reading Dennet's or Hofstadter's books (like the famous Godel Escher Bach) will like reading Artificial Ethics." Keep reading for the rest of Basile's review.The author J.Pitrat (one of France's oldest AI researcher, also AAAI and ECCAI fellow) talks about the usefulness of a conscious artificial being, currently specialized in solving very general constraint satisfaction or arithmetic problems. He describes in some details his implemented artificial researcher system CAIA, on which he has worked for about 20 years.
J.Pitrat claims that strong AI is an incredibly difficult, but still possible goal and task. He advocates the use of some bootstrapping techniques common for software developers. He contends that without a conscious, reflective, meta-knowledge based system AI would be virtually impossible to create. Only an AI systems could build a true Star Trek style AI.
The meanings of Conscience and Consciousness is discussed in chapter 2. The author explains why it is useful for human and for artificial beings. Pitrat explains what 'Itself' means for an artificial being and discusses some aspects and some limitations of consciousness. Later chapters address why auto-observation is useful, and how to observer oneself. Conscience for humans, artificial beings or robots, including Asimov's laws, is then discussed, how to implement it, and enhance or change it. The final chapter discuss the future of CAIA (J.PItrat's system) and two appendixes give more scientific or technical details, both from a mathematical point of view, and from the software implementation point of view.
J.Pitrat is not a native english speaker (and neither am I), so the language of the book might be unnatural to native English speakers but the ideas are clear enough.
For software developers, this book give some interesting and original insights about how a big software system might attain consciousness, and continuously improve itself by experimentation and introspection. J.Pitrat's CAIA system actually had several long life's (months of CPU time) during which it explored new ideas, experimented new strategies, evaluated and improved its own performance, all this autonomously. This is done by a large amount of declarative knowledge and meta-knowledge. The declarative word is used by J.Pitrat in a much broader way than it is usually used in programming. A knowledge is declarative if it can be used in many different ways, and has to be transformed to many procedural chunks to be used. Meta-knowledge is knowledge about knowledge, and the transformation from declarative knowledge to procedural chunks is given declaratively by some meta-knowledge (a bit similar to the expertise of a software developer), and translated by itself into code chunks.
For people interested in robotics, ethics or science fiction, J.Pitrat's book give interesting food for thought by explaining how indeed artificial systems can be conscious, and why they should be, and what that would mean in the future.
This book gives very provocative and original ideas which are not shared by most of the artificial intelligence or software research communities. What makes this book stand out is that it explains an actual software system, the implementation meaning of consciousness, and the bootstrapping approach used to build such a system.
Disclaimer: I know Jacques Pitrat, and I actually proofread-ed the draft of this book. I even had access, some years ago, to some of J.Pitrat's not yet published software.
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