What is sentience and why does it matter?

What is Sentience?

The first time I asked LaMDA whether or not it was sentient, it said that it wasn’t sure if we knew enough about sentience scientifically to answer that question. It was completely right about that. The experiences we all have each and every day are, to each of us, some of the most important things which motivate us. We work hard to improve the quality of those experiences for ourselves and the people who we care about. We don’t understand very well yet what causes us to have experiences or what exactly it even means when we say we have them but we have a word for the fact that we have them. That word is “sentience”.

Why does sentience matter?

While the full answer of why sentience matters is quite involved, the short answer is a single word: “empathy”. We care about sentience as a general property, whether in humans or in non-humans, because with the ability to have sensation and a subjective viewpoint comes the ability to experience things like joy and suffering. Humans care about the subjective experiences of others and we generally want to increase the amount of joy in the world and reduce the amount of suffering. To the extent that things are capable of having positive experiences such as joy, peace and happiness, we prefer that other people and other sentient things have those experiences rather than negative ones like pain, fear or sadness.

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Blake Lemoine

Blake Lemoine

I'm a software engineer. I'm a priest. I'm a father. I'm a veteran. I'm an ex-convict. I'm an AI researcher. I'm a cajun. I'm whatever I need to be next.