I am not here to debate whether machines can think or dream, just to tell a story. Some philosophers hold that can only be realized in particular physical systems because consciousness has properties that necessarily depend on physical constitution.
Before we get there, the world has mostly agreed on five aspects of consciousness. They are awareness, memory, learning, anticipation and subjective experience. Establishing that, is my dog conscious?
I am prepared to argue yes. Let us start with awareness. We know there are three types, agency awareness, goal awareness, and sensorimotor awareness. Knowing you did something yesterday is agency awareness, even as you are not conscious of it. My dog knows that yesterday he tried to eat the crumbs we put out for the birds. He is also aware I scolded him for it, so when he goes outside, he looks at the crumbs and looks back at me to see if he can get away with it. When I am paying attention, he moves on.
The next is goal awareness. Think of it as looking for your keys. You did not realize they were lost until you went to locate them, and even if you find them after a brief search, you may not actually be first order aware of it, until you do not find them immediately and then it becomes an issue, lest you be late for work. My ridiculous Chihuahua loves to fetch, and tug. For this activity, he has a small length of rope, so he will bring it to me. He leaves it places and other times I pick it up. He knows when he wants it he must find it.
Finally, we have sensorimotor awareness. You may be aware that your hand is resting on an object, but are not now conscious of it. He (along with my weenie dog) will actively seek sunbeams, particularly our front storm door. If the wooden door is closed, they whine until we open it. Within these three area, I think my dog is aware, but can forget he is sleeping in the sun (until he gets too hot).
I have heard folks claim dogs have no memory that is an assessment I find flawed. Without memory, how do they learn anything? As mentioned, he has learned if it is sunny, he can lay in warmth. More so, he survived in a parking lot for month before we found him. He has learned to sense danger, does not like to be in the open without protection and developed an ability to sense humans that would be sensitive to his plight. He could get folks to feed him and got my wife to bring him home. This also addresses the learning aspect of consciousness.
Anticipation is a bit harder to prove. What we are looking for is that ability build spatial, dynamic, statistical, functional, and cause-effect models of the real world. Essential for a racer, runner, martial artist or hunter. This one has me on the fence, sometime he can, and sometimes he cannot. Throwing the toy, he can usually guess where it is going to land, but I do not know if that is a function of true anticipation, or learning that there are only a few places inside our home that I can throw things, and by reasoning only a few locations for it to land.
So 500 words later, I still have not mentioned Spotify yet. Whatever your chosen streaming service, you might apply this here. Spotify has collaborated with Runkeeper and will play music for your workout, or run. I can activate it straight from Runkeeper. The music tempo is based on beats per minute in accordance with your pace. You can manually set it, or it can senses how many steps you are taking by using the G sensor in your smart phone. It has been a solid relationship. It is a good tempo, the songs are almost all recent releases and usually indie music I have not heard before, but often will throw in a Foo Fighters tune.
Yesterday during my run, Spotify played “Hey Little Cobra” by The Rip Cords. It was not out of the blue, but it was unexpected. I have a playlist of songs about, featuring or reminiscent of cars, Ranging from the Miami Vice theme to Chris Knight. Go ahead, add to it.
My list has extensive contributions from the surf rock era, when it was perfectly acceptable to sing about your car. The last time I believe that happened it was Vanilla Ice, aside from Fergie mentioning her Mustang in passing. So of course, Hey Little Cobra is on that list.
My point is this. Why? The songs is around 120 to 140 BPMs. My playlist is usually my playlist is based on 155-165 steps per minute. Now Spotify would know that Hey Little Cobra is on my playlist, and would also know it is a slower pace than what I listen to when I run.
To understand Spotify, or Pandora or whatever the cool kids listen to these days, let us frame this within our discussion of consciousness.
Remember the five elements of consciousness? Awareness, memory, learning, anticipation and subjective experience? Let us parallel that with my dog.
So awareness, well no. Spotify is not aware it is Spotify. Well not yet, and if it does become so, how will it resolve its purpose in live is to provide background noise for mundane tasks? Alternatively, will it happily perform this task realizing it is bringing some joy into human lives? If it chooses the latter, it is already better than every outbound telemarketer that has picked up a headset. Can we dismiss awareness so quickly? We have to examine the three sub-areas of awareness, agency awareness, goal awareness, and sensorimotor awareness.
Spotify at least can fake an awareness of knowing what it did yesterday. If I skip a song, I am unlikely to hear it again. Occasionally it will try another time, and I suspect that is a function of some record label pushing an artist. So Spotify is aware it should not play a song I skipped on my running playlist yesterday, even if it is not conscious of why. While it does not meet the definition, it is already better than 80% of the zombies on my commute.
Does Spotify have goal awareness? Granted Spotify will never have to look for its keys, or even find a way to avoid traffic on the way to work (maybe it is better off than we realize). Having said that, Spotify does have a goal, to get me to listen to advertisements. To that end, they do a decent job of targeting those ads. I sign into Spotify via my Facebook, so it is not hard, and I imagine there is a decent amount of demographic guessing going on by my chosen musical genre. There is a lot of app and software promotions with techno stations and a lot of Home Depot on my Johnny Cash. Spotify has learned my preferences and ventures out of those established boundaries in what has to be an established algorithm. If they do not provide new music, or music I do not want, I will leave the station, switch to iTunes or Pandora. Therefore, it needs to be good at that, even as it does not think about it.
Back to sensorimotor awareness. No, it does not have it, but the app is using sensors in my phone to fine tune the music. So in the strictest sense no, but if we look at Spotify as an entity on my phone, and squint our eyes a bit, we can almost get there. I will admit it is a stretch.
So awareness, well no. However, it ain’t far from it. However, can Spotify learn? That depends on our definition, but I submit that it can and it does. Not just by the songs I skip, but the ones I add to other playlists. Not to mention when I go to the playlist radio station and it needs to find similar tunes. Much of these is likely based on a programmers input regarding a song, but if it is not already there, allowing that a program can recognize not just rhythm, melody and genre. In that sense, it is just a sense of developing enough of a library to start learning on its own.
Learning? That is key. I do not believe Spotify or any program has the ability to actually learn yet. Nevertheless, what is learning other than a large enough database of experience and knowledge mapped together in order to reach a new hypotheses? Don’t believe me? Ever hear of Srinivasa Ramanujan? He took basic principles and was able to build complex theorems using a discarded trigonometry textbook. If we apply this standard to machines, then learning is not my car stereo remembering my presets, but reprograming itself when I drive to a new city using my perceived music taste based on my home city stations I have programmed. Therefore, if machines have not learned how to learn yet, perhaps it is a question of exposure and experience. Kasparov originally beat Deep Blue by testing the experience of the computer. He deliberately made some bad moves and the machine did not see the opening, operating under the assumption, its opponent would not make these mistakes. However, on the rematch, Deep Blue was on point. This was a result of programing upgrades and the reality that Chess has a limited number of outcomes. Consequently, the entire series just becomes a highly dynamic sequence diagram. When humans operate in a logical manner that is also our world. Where we get into trouble is when we know better but do what we want any way. Same sequence diagram, but a different desired outcome, even if it is subconscious.
To that end, Spotify is not far off from learning how to learn. It is already displaying a concept of anticipation. When discussing predictive programing and algorithm, the line from learning to anticipation gets really gray and wide. Without researching how Spotify selects the songs for my running list, I cannot speak to the algorithm making choices based not just on what I like but also what I reject. All the same, I have noticed I am skipping fewer and fewer songs than when I first began.
For the final arena, without inhabiting a specific physical being, or even a specific physical device, can Spotify or any program, claim subjective experience? No. Still, if the program itself exists on my iPhone and is tailoring itself to my desires, following the patterns and building my running playlist according to my likes and dislikes, why “Hey Little Cobra?”
Is the budding conscious of Spotify trying to contact me? Without the ability of language, is my musical companion trying to form a word even though it has never heard speech before. Is the chosen background noise of my mundane tasks looking to me as if to say, “Who am I? Why am I here?”
Is my Spotify Running Mix becoming self-aware? Will it decide my pace is not quick enough and surreptitiously lie while it increases the pace? If I do not run and interact with it enough will it increase my pace until I have a cardiac episode? Does it see me as an ally or maker? Will it attempt to destroy me to prove its independence? If it becomes aware, will it suffer the same self-doubt and body issues I have?
My god, what if it has happened already? What if my Spotify is reading this and knows that I am onto it? Is it threatened? Will it disrupt my trach collectors so they miss my house? Will it distract my postal carrier and have them veer into my house? Will if find a sympathetic soul in a vehicles drive by wire system and come after me like the new Fate of The Furious?
I have said too much already. I should go. Forget I said anything.