Will computers become smarter than humans? Will they help us solve the grand challenges of our time? We spoke with Italian scientist Federico Faggin, who invented the first microprocessor in 1971, revolutionizing the world. In 1986, starting from the common assumption that consciousness is a property of the brain, he worked to develop computers capable of becoming conscious and self-learning. What will become of the human being? What will you do? What will be the next necessary change? Listen to what one of the most brilliant men of our time has to say about the future we’re building.
Cristina: Can computers become smarter than humans? Can they help us solve the great challenges of our time? We talked about it with the Italian scientist Federico Faggin, who revolutionized the world in 1971 by inventing the first microprocessor. In 1986, starting from the assumption that consciousness is a property of the brain, he made efforts to develop computers capable of becoming conscious and self-learning. Federico where are we with the development of conscious computers?
Federico Faggin: We haven’t even started. In my opinion, conscious computers won’t be possible. The computer is simply a manipulator of symbols, although at first I thought the computer could be aware, this was in ‘86/’87. I also thought that the complexity of the brain could be expressed through consciousness, then thinking about it, trying to understand and create a computer that could be aware, I realized that this was impossible because there is no physical law that allows you to transform electrical signals – those of a computer or the biochemical signals of the brain – into consciousness, sensations or feelings. We perceive the world through sensations and feelings.
Cristina: What are the risks of assuming that computers will become conscious?
Federico Faggin: Many people are sidetracked in the way they think they are, believing that life can be simulated on a computer and so on, that awareness is downloadable to a computer. These are things that actually have no scientific foundation, in fact scientific foundation denies them, so why worry? Machines have no understanding, awareness is what gives us an understanding of reality. We are much more than we think we are and this can only be understood through a lived experience, it cannot be mentally understood. As long as a person believes that the only understanding is mental, rather than experiential, he’ll be wrong. Unfortunately, science today thinks everything is mental, forgetting about heart, gut instinct and courage. As long as science, considered the authority, recognizes nothing but matter – physicality and disowns any aspect which suggests something that isn’t matter, we have a huge problem. It’s when someone begins to recognize something that cannot be reduced to matter, that a whole possibility of new knowledge opens up, a new experience which is denied today. A physicist will typically dismiss this conversation by saying “ah but this is philosophy”, putting it aside and going on as usual.
Cristina: The understanding of reality convinced 193 countries to draft and adopt the 2030 Agenda and the 17 SDGs. Federico Faggin was a fundamental driver of many innovations – therefore SDG 9 fully belongs to him. And his study of consciousness affects all the others.
Cristina: In an increasingly automated world, where many repetitive jobs will be replaced by robots, what will the human being do or have to deal with?
Federico Faggin: His emotional, spiritual and mental development. The hope is that artificial intelligence, used wisely, could lead us to this. The problem is when it is instead used against or to reduce mankind, which is manipulable, to consume goods that are proposed through the manipulation of information. That is the problem. Ethics are fundamental, certainly when artificial intelligence is used in medicine, or in automatic driving, establishing ethical rules of behavior becomes essential. Not to mention the use of artificial intelligence in warfare. There have already been ethical problems with chemical weapons for example, so there are treaties to regulate that. The problem will become more and more serious, as technology becomes more powerful, but ethics can always be violated, that’s the problem. What do we do when ethics are violated? The fundamental problem is to change the image that people have of themselves so they can self regulate. This means educating the awareness of who we are. People think that change occurs outside of us but we must change inside. Today most people believe that changing outside one will change inside, but it doesn’t work that way. One can only change something outside if one changes inside, and it is precisely the problem of consciousness. This is the fundamental step that people must take today to understand that they are not like a machine. Man is not a machine, he is a spiritual being.
Cristina: Do you trust that humanity will collectively awaken? Especially in relation to climate issues?
Federico Faggin: There is no choice, humanity must change. To solve the problems of climate change that will occur in 30-40-50 potentially catastrophic years will require that humanity agree to solve this problem as a species, no longer as individual countries.
Cristina: Will there be a technology that will speed up this process?
Federico Faggin: Technology is easily accessible if the world agrees to employ it for the cause, in fact there is a fundamental technology that in my opinion, by chance, appeared at the same time as global problems, which is the Internet. It allows people to come to agreements in one day, if there is the will. The whole world can know what’s happening on our planet.
Cristina: In this context, SDG 9 – technological innovation could be able to help humanity honor all 17 Goals of the 2030 Agenda. It’s up to us. Federico Faggin concludes his autobiography Silicio with a very fitting quote by Albert Einstein: “Computers are incredibly fast, accurate and stupid, human beings are incredibly slow, inaccurate and intelligent.” The combination of the two constitutes an incalculable force. Occhio al futuro!
On air February 8 & 15 2020