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Why should PMs look out for conscious AI?

Last year, Ilya Sutskever, the chief scientist at OpenAI, tweeted, ”it may be that today's large neural networks are slightly conscious”. While many believe AI hasn't reached consciousness, the rapid evolution of AI has prompted the question: how will we recognize it if it does?

A team of 19 experts, including neuroscientists, philosophers, and computer scientists, has developed a checklist to determine the likelihood of an AI system being conscious and emphasize the moral implications of recognizing AI consciousness. The team believes that AI consciousness could change how humans perceive and treat such entities. To overcome the challenge in defining consciousness, the team's approach, based on multiple neuroscience theories, aims to identify consciousness by examining how AI systems process information.

The potential consciousness of AI systems isn't merely a philosophical debate; it has tangible implications for product design, user experience, and ethical considerations. If an AI system is deemed conscious, even to a minimal degree, it could necessitate a reevaluation of how these systems are integrated into products and how users interact with them. For instance, would a conscious AI warrant rights or a certain level of respect? How would users feel about interacting with an entity that might possess a form of awareness? Therefore, product managers must anticipate and navigate the societal implications of these advancements. The public's trust in a product is heavily influenced by its ethical considerations. If an AI system is perceived as potentially conscious, and a product does not respect that possibility, it could lead to backlash, affecting the product's success in the market.

The research states, "Our analysis suggests that no current AI systems are conscious, but it also suggests that there are no obvious technical barriers to building AI systems which satisfy these indicators." This might sound like a problem of the future, but even today, with the proliferation of general-purpose AI such as the new breed of LLMs, the role of a Product Manager has never been more critical. The integration of AI into products and services isn't just about harnessing its power; it's about designing interfaces and interactions that are intuitive, transparent, and human-centric. Even the most advanced AI can be rendered ineffective if users find it challenging to engage with or if it feels too impersonal or invasive. PMs face the unique challenge of bridging the gap between human users and complex AI algorithms. They must ensure that AI-driven solutions are presented in a manner that is accessible, understandable, and beneficial to the end-user. This involves designing interfaces that clearly communicate what the AI is doing, why it's doing it, and how users can control or override its actions. As AI continues to permeate various sectors, from healthcare to finance, the role of a PM in shaping human-AI interactions will be paramount.

That being said, for product managers, understanding the potential consciousness of AI is not just about staying updated with the latest research; it's about ensuring that products are ethically sound, user-friendly, and prepared for the future. If you want to learn more about AI and Generative AI for product management, please visit our website to join one of our training programs at

Going back to the research, an overview of the neuroscience theories the team has used is listed below. For more details on their work please read “Consciousness in Artificial Intelligence: Insights from the Science of Consciousness” at .

Recurrent Processing Theory (RPT)

RPT posits that consciousness arises from processing in specific brain regions. It emphasizes visual consciousness, differentiating between states where stimuli are consciously seen versus unconsciously represented.

Global Workspace Theory of Consciousness (GWT)

This theory suggests that the mind possesses specialized systems (modules) that accomplish cognitive tasks.

Computational higher-order theories

This theory suggests the need for awareness of one's mental state for it to be conscious.

Attention Schema Theory (AST)

This theory suggests that the human brain creates a model of attention, controlling what we focus on.

Predictive Processing (PP)

This is a broad, unifying theory of cognition stating that human and animal thought is focused on reducing prediction errors in a hierarchical model that forecasts sensory stimuli.

Agency and embodiment

This theory posits that current AI systems, like the image classifier AlexNet, lack core elements found in conscious entities — goals, choice-making capacity, physical bodies, and the ability to interact with the environment by storing and integrating information over time.

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