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How Can We Communicate with Synthetic Intelligence?

By Jason M. Pittman, Sc.D.


So far in this series, I have talked at length about what synthetic intelligence is as well as various aspects of synthetic intelligence such as consciousness, agency, and whether we can even detect it. If we assume that synthetic intelligence will demonstrate consciousness in a way that we can detect, the next rational step would be to communicate with it. Is communication something we'll be able to have with synthetic intelligence? I think so, yes.

Forms of Communication

Foremost, we know that forms of communication besides words and body language exist. While those two modalities are common through the animal kingdom, we have to look outside of the normative worldview to understand how to communicate with synthetic intelligence. For example, communication can take place solely through electrical signals. The mammalian nervous system works in this way. Further, plants have demonstrated the ability to communicate with each other using electrical signals. Lower forms of life such as bacteria can use chemical signals (quorum signaling) as can higher order life such as plants. Chemicals also are used as the basis for pheromones. Moreover, chemicals represent a primary communication mechanism between cells within higher order organisms.

Stock photo of birds communicating

The point is, life communicates. Life communicates both within itself as well as between itself and others. So: why can't we just create a speech-to-chemical converter so to say? Well, because modality is not the only factor. That is, if communicating with synthetic intelligence were just a matter of tuning to the correct channel with a radio then we'd already be able to do so.

Time of Communication

To communicate with a synthetic intelligence, we need to be able to act outside of our own time scale. Sure, we are seemingly bound to a linear sense of time (distinct past, present, and future) with the capacity to understand non-linear time (past, present, and future occurring simultaneously). Thus, getting the form of time correct is paramount. Still, the pace of time is also important. In other words, synthetic intelligence may be experiencing much faster or slower than us. Thus, our radio needs to scan through modalities but also time phrasings.

Nature of Communication

Furthermore, we ought to consider the underlying nature of communication. Communication for us is a means of expressing an internal abstraction. The classic model is linking of logic, grammar, and rhetoric or what is known as the trivium. As a model, the trivium provides a means to understand how human consciousness seems to function with respect to communication. Yet we have no guarantee that a synthetic consciousness will manifest its form of communication in the same manner. Accordingly, our radio needs to parse both trivium-based communication as well as communication without as basis in logic or grammar.

Thus, Communicating

We have to start somewhere, and I think starting with time and grammar gives us the best chance for communicating with a synthetic intelligence. Moreover, I would suggest that we begin with listening rather than speaking. Life- natural, artificial, and synthetic- is communicating. We simply need to tune in.