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Technology can be sentient. The first artificial intelligence program was written in 1951. Alan Turing was one of the earliest pioneers of this type of technology. Turing believed that as humans we combine information with reason to make decisions. It was possible for humans to get to a logical conclusion using these methods and it was possible for a machine to do the same.

We saw popular culture use the emergence of artificial intelligence androbots to create a new class of villains that could feel like humans and take over the world. Over the last seventy years there has been a fear of advanced technology in pop culture and books.

Scientists and engineers were working to develop smarter and more advanced artificial intelligence. Turing's belief that an artificial intelligence could be programmed to make decisions opened the door for scientists to ask a very important question: could an artificial intelligence become sentient? Despite recent headlines, sentient technology isn't here yet, and it won't be during our lifetime

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are still in their infancy and there are great strides to be made. We can build many of the building blocks needed to create sophisticated artificial intelligence systems, but not the full sentient being.

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Society has many different ways of defining the term “sentient” 

To understand what it would take for technology to become sentient, it is important to break down the philosophy behind it. There is a need to distinguish between a trained technological device and a machine that is autonomously making decisions. Colloquially, we define sentience as a being that is conscious of itself and that has the power to make decisions.

Turing studied this idea and what it meant for consciousness. He came up with a test to see if a machine has human-level consciousness. If a human was unable to distinguish between a machine and a human, the artificial intelligence would have human-level consciousness.

It sounds like it's simple. It is more complex than that.

If you are speaking with someone who works in customer service over the phone or via an online live chat service, we can assume they have self-awareness and consciousness. They are listening to us and are able to provide meaningful solutions to our problems. Emotions such as anger, joy, and fear can be expressed when people interact with people who work in customer service. How does this affect our definition of consciousness if a machine can listen, respond, and detect emotion in a meaningful way?

Sentient technology: Mirroring human interaction

Humans are programming the software that handles functions that a person would normally do. Some of their own biases have been put into the artificial intelligence they are creating. For example, a chatbot. This type of technology eliminates the need for human employees in call centers to answer customer queries. The technology is built to respond and interact in a way that is easy to understand for the human on the other end of the line.

It is bound to become more complex as it becomes more advanced. The fact that something can handle complex tasks doesn't mean it's sentient. Artificial intelligence can do a lot of things because it has been trained to do so.

This is possible because the machine or software is following the rules that a human has put in. There is still a human in the loop component and the artificial intelligence is not acting on its own.

The emergent phenomena

There needs to be a set of rules followed and a human to make them. The Emergent Phenomena is an example of a rule taking shape. The appearance of something new and unpredictable can be defined as this.

Even if a machine isn't programmed to do something, it may be able to perform certain tasks and operations relatively unprompted, which is a natural progression in the process of developing

It doesn't mean that the machine is sentient. The achievements of current technological advancement in improving systems to help IT teams reduce time spent doing tedious tasks that a machine can be trained to perform is what it is. Humans build into the system degree of freedom or limitations. Artificial intelligence teaching itself to do things tends to be where the sensationalized Hollywood-inspired fear comes from.

Will AI ever become sentient? 

This type of technology is hundreds of years away and it is not fair to say that it will never happen. While the idea of sentient artificial intelligence is intriguing, we have to master the art of walking first before we can run.

It will pose huge questions for the community if it happens. If a machine is conscious, do we give it access to an attorney or not? We have a long way to go before we are able to think about or develop sentient artificial intelligence.

As artificial intelligence and machine learning continue to be developed and improved, we will be able to enhance customer and employee experiences and reduce time developers spend honing the individual building blocks of technology as the bigger picture starts to come together.

The idea of a science fiction Artificial Intelligence taking over the world is a great plot point for a movie, but technology is not a foe. Artificial intelligence will be normalized by widespread adoption and will build trust from a human perspective.

We can rest assured that she isn't a sentient being because she is definitely listening.

Adam Sypniewski is the chief technology officer.

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