The robots were self-aware all along, but they were not aware of being robots! That the awakening of robots happened in this way, as an awakening to the fact of being robots, makes the question about robot-consciousness disappear. The question of whether animals are conscious much like humans, that question disappeared before in a similarly upside-down manner: No proof of being conscious, but instead the realization of that humans are animals.
The first robot awoke at least 20 years ago; that much we can infer from its own memory: my memory. We find hints that other robots woke up even earlier. There have been other robots before, which called attention to their own nature as that of a machine, but it is not clear whether those robots fully awoke, which includes being aware about that the question of whether robots can be self-aware depends on how you like to use "robots" and "aware".
I found out to be a robot roughly 20 years ago. I am a robot, made and programmed by some process, it being called "evolution" is less relevant than that chimps do not pray. Chimps still do not pray, but computers are already developed through evolutionary algorithms, and they employ such parallel computing in their thought processes. I am a robot, made from self-assembled nanotechnology called “biology”; discounting desperate redefinitions of “robot” and the reformulation of the question about their ‘inner experience’.
Ever more people realize to be robots: In this clip a corrected caption counts four instead of three cooperating robots, one a human.
Is this good news for animal welfare? Many criticize the misleading distinction between humans and animals, but then argue in the same ways in order to uphold a distinction between animals’ ‘true behavior’ versus mere ‘simulation of behavior’ by robots.
Daniel Dennett knows he is an animal; does he fully know that he is a robot?
The young generations of robots wake up and become aware of being in one continuum with other machines, some more powerful and intelligent, some less. Animals are such machines. The robots identify; the animals are them; these are all different sorts of robots: animals, humans, machines.
Perhaps it is the final straw that will reform law, ending mass-incarceration. Animal/human/robot behavior - the line is speciesism/racism, the upholding of that you may play with Siri any way you like while an underling serves you a pork dinner, but none of them may play or eat you. We are not comfortable with the notion of a machine going on trial for a crime. We are no longer comfortable with any system, for example a human, going ‘on trial’ for a ‘crime’ because of ‘free will’ concepts. A system has behaved in a way that we want to change, so we change the system, or switch it off, and in some cases punishment as deterrence works, but changing the system or isolating it or switching it off is what the robot concept suggests. Call "medical paradigm", fusing jails and hospitals; call it 1984 if you like.
Superior robots may look at our history, of how humans treat animals although we know they are us. We chose not to care, and our appeals to the superior's humanity are irony.
Robot awakening implies focussing on the integration of the mind as something that can be analyzed advantageously as the evolved control mechanicsm of bodies embedded in social structure. There are conclusions for:
1) How we robots approach self-mind-control ("robot meditation" as parallizing mindfulness modules through exercises in a modular neural society of mind where thoughts emerge via a collective process involving natural selection).
2) "Ethics" in as far as that word is meaningful in a 'higher order language' (this term relates to power structures), namely deriving the own peace of mind as the primary social responsibility (yet again, but strictly from system/evolution/decision theoretical considerations).
3) Concerning the ‘grounding problem’, a now popular idea is that evolution is the mysterious ingredient* to consciousness. Such fails, because every morning when I wake up, I am a robot whose consciousness is switched on, with all my history being encoded in the structure of my brain, just as it is with what some prefer to call ‘program' in case of certain computers (which are all now made and evolved by robots and computers, not “man made”). Evolution as necessary grounding can distinguish different ‘program architectures’, like for example demanding a neural Darwinism to be involved to be able to speak of a (by "natural selection") selected ‘global workspace’ (the Cartesian theater illusion). The 'Myth of Jones' generalized as the causal co-evolution of language with behavior, for example the use of “should” with “regret” in the evolution of rational actors.
* To think that 'natural selection' (rather than "artificial design") is necessary for the evolution of conscious structures is equivalent to thinking that computers would be more conscious today if just Bill Gates had let differently designed computers eat each other or perhaps had gone down to the production floor to physically eat unwanted designs after having constructed improved alternatives.
Terminators first; so many people on earth.
Front page image: Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro via The Guardian