Wednesday, July 10, 2024 | Daily bulletin

Is AI conscious? Most say yes, says study

Two-thirds of respondents believe that artificial intelligence (AI) tools like ChatGPT have some level of awareness and can have subjective experiences such as emotions and memories, according to a new study from the University of Waterloo.

Large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT often display a conversational style when outputting content. These human-like abilities have fueled debates about whether AI has consciousness.

According to the researchers, if people believe that AI has a certain level of awareness, it could ultimately affect how people interact with AI tools, potentially strengthening social bonds and increasing trust. On the other hand, excessive trust can also lead to emotional dependency, reduced human interactions, and over-reliance on AI to make important decisions.

“While most experts deny that current AI can be conscious, our research shows that for most of the public, AI consciousness is already a reality,” said Dr. Clara Colombatto, professor of psychology in Waterloo’s Faculty of Arts.

To understand public attitudes about AI consciousness, Colombatto and her colleague Dr. Steve Fleming at University College London a stratified sample of 300 people in the US and asked if they believed that ChatGPT might have the capacity for consciousness, as well as a variety of other mental states – such as the ability to make plans, reason and feel emotions – and how often they used the tool.

The research found that the more people used ChatGPT, the more likely they were to attribute it to consciousness – an important factor as AI tools become increasingly part of our daily lives.

“These results show the power of language because just a conversation can make us believe that an agent that looks and acts very differently from us can have a mind,” Colombatto said.

“Alongside emotions, consciousness is related to intellectual capacities that are essential to moral responsibility: the ability to formulate plans, act deliberately and have self-control are tenets of our ethical and legal systems. These public attitudes should therefore be a key factor in shaping and regulating AI for safe use, along with expert consensus.”

Future research will examine more specific factors driving these awareness attributions, and their implications for trust and social bonding, as well as possible variations within the same people over time, and between different people in different countries and cultures.

The article “Folk psychological attributions of consciousness to major models of language” was published in Neuroscience of Consciousness.

Testing the campus emergency communications system tomorrow

A message from Information Systems & Technology (IST).

Information Systems and Technology (IST) will test the university’s campus-wide emergency communications system on Thursday, July 11 at 2:30 p.m

What is the effect?

Emergency communication channels tested include:

  • Tweets to @UWaterloo and @WatSAFEapp;
  • WatSAFE mobile app;
  • “WatSAFE Desktop Notification” pop-ups on desktop and laptop screens; and
  • Portal alerts and push notifications.


The message that appears will be read “TEST of the UW Emergency Notification System. During an actual emergency or threat, you would receive instructions. No action required.” More information about the emergency is available at

About 15 minutes after the test activation message is sent, a deactivation message appears, β€œThe test of the UW Emergency Notification System is complete.

In the event of an actual emergency during this test, please contact the police at 519-888-4911, or ext. 22222.

Be sure to install the WatSAFE app on your device and the WatSAFE Desktop Notification tool on your desktop/laptop to receive this test notification, and more importantly, to stay informed about campus emergencies. Visit the WatSAFE website for more information.

Questions or concerns? Please contact the IST Service Desk via IST Help Portal.

Remembering Distinguished Professor Emeritus Gordon Nelson

Distinguished professor emeritus and second dean at the Faculty of Environment James Gordon Nelson died Saturday, May 11.

Dr. Nelson was a pioneer in resource development and environmental management research, known for his work in land use, landscape change, public park development, wild lands management, the role of the public in planning and policymaking, and the implications of offshore oil and gas resource development.

He was born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1932. Educated at McMaster University, the University of Colorado and Johns Hopkins University, he taught for several years at the University of Calgary before serving as a geography professor at the University of Western Ontario (now Western University).

He was first appointed Dean of the Faculty of Environmental Studies (now known as the Faculty of the Environment) in 1975, when he came to Waterloo from Western. He succeeded Dr. Peter Nash, the first Dean of the Faculty, established in 1970. He was reappointed to the deanship in 1979 and served until 1983.

“Gordon Nelson was a pioneer in environmental science, and his research and community engagement related to parks, protected areas and natural heritage had lasting impacts,” said Dr. Jean Andrey, a former colleague. “Also, as Associate Dean of the Faculty of Environmental Studies, he helped create a culture that encouraged interdisciplinarity and genuine partnerships that extended beyond the academy.”

Dr. Nelson was known as one of Canada’s foremost geographers. Throughout his career he advised governments at all levels. He chaired the board of the National and Provincial Park Association of Canada and was a member of the Human Environment Committee of the Social Sciences Research Council. He served on the board of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Heritage Canada and other organizations. He was a long time member of the Rotary Club and sponsored many field trips, urban and rural adventures for young people.

In the 1990s, Dr. Nelson’s research on the Great Lakes and the Grand River Watershed. As chairman of the Heritage Resources Centre, he led workshops to stimulate public interest in rural Ontario, including the International Countryside Stewardship Exchange in 1996. In 1978, Dr. Nelson the first recipient of the Parks Canada National Heritage Award, created to recognize individuals outside the public service who have made contributions to conservation. In 1993, he was awarded the Massey Medal of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, given for “personal achievement in the exploration, development or description of the geography of Canada.” In 1994 he received a Waterloo Region Environmental Award for his work in having the Grand River designated as a Canadian River.

After 22 years at Waterloo, Dr. Nelson retired in July 1997. He had supervised nearly 70 graduate students and published several books during that time.

Dr. Nelson was named Distinguished Professor Emeritus in October 1998 in recognition of his work as an ecologist, geographer, planner and policy maker. Active in retirement, he continued to host lectures, colloquia and other events on and off campus.

He received the National Rivers Conservation Award of Merit in 2004 for his role in protecting the Grand River.

It’s a meltdown after midterms and other notes

Midterm meltdown will take place today from 12:00pm to 4:00pm in SLC Green surface Great Hall (the location was changed due to today’s rainy weather). Undergraduate students will be able to grab a free frozen treat courtesy of WUSA’s many student services as long as supplies last. A valid WatCard is required for entry to the event, and vegan and gluten-free options will be available.

For those of us who aren’t eligible for ice cream, fear not! Food Truck Wednesdays continue in Arts quad today from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m with food from Passado Brasil and El Milagro.

Waterloo’s Virtual Private Network (VPN) will be unavailable on the morning of Thursday 11 July as it is being migrated to new equipment as part of IST’s core equipment refresh project.

The temporary outage will take place between 7:00 AM and 8:00 AM on Thursday, July 11, and the VPN service will be unavailable during the maintenance window. IST reports that “client configurations will be automatically updated when they connect to the VPN service after the maintenance window.”

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