Westworld: How Close to Reality?

Like so many, I really enjoyed the series Westworld, in large part because, like Star Trek before it, it presented a future where technology could achieve capabilities we can’t yet achieve. While a little violent for my tastes, the many technology concepts and moral dilemmas made for a great show.

Of particular interest was the concept of the bicameral mind and its transformation into consciousness. Today, science struggles to compose a definition of what consciousness is, let alone how we can test for it and how we might create it. As a model, it is not bad. The term bicameral mind was first coined by Julian Jaynes in his 1976 book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. The concept is somewhat modeled after government bicameralism, where the left half of the brain is our normal active thinking brain, and the right half is a muted shadow which conveys experience, memories, ideas, and emotions to the left half through auditory hallucinations. In Westworld, these secondary reasoning components in the brain can provide guidance, in the form of a distinct inner voice, “god-voices”, that influence behavior and decisions. These voices, the series suggests, were the key to consciousness.

We have seen this concept of two parts of consciousness over and over again in both science and philosophy. Daniel Kahneman 2011 bestselling book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, talks about the “System 1” mode, which is a fast but instinctive and emotional mind, while the “System 2” mode is a slower, more deliberate and logical mind. Those that understand this, can deliberately invoke the “System 2” in high stress situations to prevent irrational, emotional decisions from dominating one’s actions.

Cougaar Software, Inc. (CSI’s) ActiveEdge® technology, and COUGAAR before it, is modeled after Marvin Minsky’s Society of Mind, first published in 1986. In Minsky’s model, multiple agents operate together, but each are responsible for a set of things such as capabilities, decisions, or skills. While one agent has responsibility, other agents can ‘inform and advise’ the agent using the agent language. But Minsky also introduced a concept of an A-brain and a B-brain. The A-brain was focused on thinking about the outside world, such as what was happening and what actions needed to be taken, while the B-brain focused on how the A-brain was doing its work, and how the thought processes and reasoning could be improved, where errors and faulty assertions were being formed, and how these errors and faults could be detected, corrected, and avoided.

It is interesting that there are so many concepts of a two-part mind, with similar but diverging concepts of their role, interactions, and contributions to our consciousness. One of the most critical scientific mysteries today is to understand the operation of the brain, and in understanding it, determine what truly constitutes consciousness. Is it emergent when you have enough neurons? Are there more complex sub-structures in the brain that we have not yet isolated? Where do those little voices, the angels and demons on our shoulders really come from – is it a specific place in the brain, wired throughout, or from someplace else completely. Only when we understand the nature of consciousness, can we truly expect to create synthetic forms that emulate it. The key to artificial intelligence, therefore, is locked away in the little voices of our mind.

dr_ToddCarrico About the Author: Dr. Todd Carrico is the President and CEO of Cougaar Software, Inc. and a recognized expert in cognitive computing and intelligent distributed systems.