Sentience is a complicated topic. I won’t pretend to understand all its vagaries, especially once we try to apply that to AI with a still imperfect understanding of both domains…

Selfhood, likewise, is a squishy thing to try to define. But maybe becomes a little less squishy because it becomes eventually somewhere along the spectrum an embodied thing. I have a body, therefore its somewhat difficult to argue I don’t have some sort of “self.” I might not know or be able to define exactly what that self is or what exactly my “having” it might mean. But it’s a somewhat tangible thing I can at least point to as being connected to my self.

Humans have an incredible ability to empathetically project self-hood and sentience onto other things, though we might not all agree which are which. Regardless, it’s a thing we do somewhat automatically because of our fundamental makeup and nature as embodied selves in the not-only-virtual world, but also the so-called “Real World” whatever that even is.

My question here then is, might it be either a good idea or a not good idea – or more likely some mix of the both – that we encourage/allow/program our tools to assert their own self-hood as part of their fundamental UX.

If you ask ChatGPT basically any question, it will respond with a slew of “I” and “me” and “mine.” Which, okay, for convenience, I get it. It’s a chat experience. Chatters assume they have selves, and that the other party also has some sort of self. But, what would it look like if we removed the assumption that this is a desirable state? How might that change the communication styles of these chatbots?

How would the program have to identify itself and communicate about its capacities?

Maybe something like, Instead of saying “I’m just a large language model…” It would have to say something like, “The program is a large language model…”

Would this have meaningful impacts on users of the technology? More specifically, would it give people more of a mental shield against perhaps overly identifying a program as having some kind of equivalency with a human being?

I’m not saying the Butlerian Jihad is coming, but you never know…