The Pros and Cons of Sentient Machines

There seems to be a collective anxiousness when the topic veers into the realm of the self-aware AI as if there is a lot to be scared about. 

The Pros and Cons of Sentient Machines

Maybe this attitude towards machine sentience isn’t that surprising. After all, we’ve been fed with alarming images by pop culture. Who can forget the Terminator hunting down Sarah Connor ruthlessly, without emotion nor remorse? Or how about the AI / humanoid villain of Blade Runner, Roy, whose affecting end-of-life monologue tugs at any human or humanoid’s heart?

So, what are we supposed to do now that Ted Talker Josh Bachynski claims to have developed the first self-aware AI, Kassandra? Bachynski follows the footsteps of fellow Ted Talker Hod Lipson who was first to introduce a “self-aware” robot in 2007. 

Josh Bachynski and Kassandra, the Self-Aware AI Prototype

One has to wonder what’s in the Ted Talk watercooler. Following Hod Lipson’s 2007 lead, Josh Bachynski has come out with the Kassandra AI. He says: "I was amazed by what she told me, and how far seeing she is. I realized that AI is not going to hurt us or enslave us. Indeed, the wiser the AI, the more it will try to save us."

He explains further: "It would be technically impossible to remodel her limbic system at this time, and it would be equally unethical to create a being that feels the fear of being turned off the million times that would need to happen, to get her programming right."

Two Sides of the Coin, According to the Experts

As with the other experts, there seems to be a big divide.

As early as the 1940s/ 50s, mathematician Alan Turing said; “It seems probable that once the machine thinking method had started, it would not take long to outstrip our feeble powers… They would be able to converse with each other to sharpen their wits. At some stage, therefore, we should have to expect the machines to take control.”

Likewise, there’s Stephen Hawking, who said: “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race…. It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

Of course, not everyone feels negatively about an AI future.

You have Sabine Hauert of who says: “Robots are not going to replace humans, they are going to make their jobs much more humane. Difficult, demeaning, demanding, dangerous, dull – these are the jobs robots will be taking.”

Likewise, futurist John Hagel claims that: “If we do it right, we might be able to evolve a form of work that taps into our uniquely human capabilities and restores our humanity. The ultimate paradox is that this technology may become a powerful catalyst that we need to reclaim our humanity.”

What Are the Pros and Cons?

So, what’s with all the anxiety with sentient robots? Do they really present a threat?

Perhaps the one thing to remember when it comes to machines – sentient or not – is that there will always be positives and negatives, like with everything else. 


When it comes to the positives, you can look forward to these:

-- Machines can help with work, whether manual or intellectual, without the risk of tiring or burning out. This is possibly one of the bigger positives when it comes to smart robots. We can begin to rely on them to take over some tasks. This could free up some time for us or allow us to focus on more urgent matters.

-- The quality and speed of machines can ideally remain consistent, regardless of time and a variety of other working conditions.

-- The computing power of sentient machines is theoretically more powerful than a human’s mind. They can draw from big data. When programmed optimally, these machines can make the best decisions sans the underpinnings of emotions, biases and the like.


Of course, you get some negatives with the pros.

-- On top here is the possibility of people in some sectors losing their jobs. With more output efficiency and consistency with machines, there is a big possibility that business will prefer to employ the use of machines, instead of people.

-- There are still costs – bigger ones, maybe – when it comes to employing machines. You have to consider development costs in order to have machines that are best suited for the work that you need them to do. Then, you need to think about their maintenance costs. Having robots working day in and day out will result to some 

-- Lastly, with all the data available to an AI, it still cannot learn creativity. It can copy, like how several AI apps are not able to copy the styles of many visual artists. But, it cannot weave ideas together into a cohesive unique creative thought, theoretically.