Is Klara a sentient robot?

At one level, we can never know, just as we cannot tell for sure that our mother, brother, wife, son or next-door neighbour is sentient. The annoying thing about consciousness is that the only one you’re sure has it is yourself. But the signs are all there that Klara does have it. The intriguing aspect to the book is that Klara’s designers appear to have cracked the problem of consciousness. Moreover, they have instantiated it in a machine, namely, Klara and all the ‘artificial friends’. Yet, Klara’s cognitive powers are still rooted purely in the statistical approach to reasoning that underpins today’s machine learning. She is long on correlation but short on causation and counterfactualisation. As a result, her thinking does not exhibit the same flexibility as that of a human being. Ishiguro is right to separate the two factors. What is interesting is that his book presupposes that we solve the problem of consciousness before we solve the problem of what Kahneman calls ‘slow thinking’.

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