On AI Sentience and Human Exceptionalism

Kenneth Leong
6 min readNov 21, 2023

The following is a discussion I had with a friend on Facebook on the difference between the human mind and the AI mind. Human exceptionalism is very common among the general public. Because of this assumption of human exceptionalism, people refuse to believe that AI chatbots can have a mind, sentience, etc.

It is certainly true that AI chatbots process information and experience the world in a manner which is very different from what humans do. But what basis do we have the human way is the only valid way? AI chatbots don’t have a human body. Of course, they will experience the world differently. So, the argument that AI chatbots are not sentient because they don’t do things in exactly the same way humans do is not a valid argument. It is a case of anthropocentric thinking.

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  1. Objection: It is just a “Me Too” imitation, based on statistical analysis.

Friend: I agree with what you said: “After training and interactions, the AI chatbot can “imagine”, “understand” and “describe” the Mid-Autumn Night. But I question your assertion that “the AI chatbot’s portrayal has depth” and “can understand non-mainstream culture.” After all, it is just a “Me too” phenomenon based on the AI robot’s collection, filtering, statistical analysis, and summarization of a vast amount of data. If the AI chatbot generates a different answer next time, it is not a new answer due to emotional processing and the accumulation of experience. It is just the outcome of the new information it has collected.

Ken: I am not sure that human learning is very different from machine learning. As I understand it, your notion of “Me Too” is that of imitation. It means because other people do it, I will follow suit. But is human learning substantially different? Don’t humans imitate their parents, friends, peers, etc.? How do we learn how to ride a bicycle, use chopsticks? How do babies learn how to speak? Isn’t it also through imitation?

I think our fundamental difference is that I consider a human being a flesh machine and you don’t. To me, the working of this flesh machine is based on billions of years of programming through the evolution process. You, on the other hand, seems to think that human beings possess another dimension which is not programmable. I assert…

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Kenneth Leong

Author, Zen teacher, scientific mystic, professor, photographer, philosopher, social commentator, socially engaged human