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  • Date
    02 OCTOBER 2023
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    Federico Faggin on the Interplay of Consciousness, AI, and Education

    In the realm of silicon chips, semiconductors, and the very essence of modern computing, Federico Faggin stands as a monumental figure. Having played an instrumental role in the development of the first microprocessor, his foray into understanding the intricate layers of human consciousness sets him apart as a polymath. RED-EYE recently had the privilege to delve into Faggin's groundbreaking perspectives on the crossroads of consciousness, AI, and the future of education.

    At the Smart Life Festival 2023, in the hallowed halls of the I.I.S. Corni, Modena, Faggin engaged in a dialogue with the eager minds of Modena's high schools, guided by Maria Raffaella Caprioglio, president of Umana, and Fabio Ferrari, president and founder of Ammagamma. For RED-EYE, this rendezvous was an unparalleled opportunity to delve into the annals of technology with a pioneer of the digital revolution, one of the luminaries of the Silicon Valley, and to plumb the multifaceted implications of the symbiotic dance between man and machine.

    The convergence of intellect and innovation found its apotheosis in Federico Faggin, whose pioneering spirit birthed the Intel 4004, the world's inaugural microprocessor. This monumental achievement irrevocably altered the course of human progress, ushering in an era of boundless possibilities. Faggin's indomitable spirit and visionary prowess did not halt there, for he unfurled the vista of technological marvels, gifting the world the MOS technology with silicon gate, the crucible from which sprang the first microprocessors, EPROM and dynamic RAM memories, and CCD sensors—the very bedrock of information digitalization.

    Federico Faggin joined Intel in 1970 and it was then that he designed the world's first microprocessor: the Intel 4004.
    Federico Faggin joined Intel in 1970 and it was then that he designed the world's first microprocessor: the Intel 4004.
    The Intel 404
    The Intel 404

    In the annals of innovation, Faggin's legacy unfurls further. The Zilog, a testament to his inexhaustible ingenuity, arose as a harbinger of change, giving rise to the iconic Z80 microprocessor, a titan that still strides the realm of production. The Synaptics, another jewel in Faggin's illustrious crown, unveiled the touchpad and touchscreen, revolutionizing human-computer interaction.

    In recognition of his monumental contributions, Federico Faggin was bestowed with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation by President Obama in 2010, an accolade that affirmed his place among the pantheon of technological titans. Subsequently, in 2019, President Mattarella bestowed upon him the title of Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, a testament to Faggin's global resonance.

    Yet, Faggin's vision transcends the material realm. In 2011, he established the Federico and Elvia Faggin Foundation, a non-profit bastion dedicated to the scientific exploration of consciousness. Through this organization, he sponsors research programs in esteemed American and Italian universities and research institutions, illuminating the path towards a deeper understanding of the enigma of awareness.

    Federico Faggin was bestowed with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation by President Obama in 2010
    Federico Faggin was bestowed with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation by President Obama in 2010.

    In the oeuvre of Federico Faggin, we find not just the mastery of circuits and silicon, but a profound meditation on the essence of existence itself. Through his work, he beckons us to contemplate the interplay of consciousness, life, computers, and our very nature—a philosophical odyssey that resonates far beyond the confines of time and space.

    If the future of Artificial Intelligence and its implications beckon your intellectual curiosity, we highly suggest you to pre-order and immerse yourself in Federico Faggin's book, "Irreducible: Consciousness, Life, Computers, and Human Nature," a masterpiece that stands as a testament to the indomitable spirit of human inquiry and innovation. The English version of the book will be released in June 2024 and you can find it here.

    It was a profound honor to engage in a dialogue with the venerable Federico Faggin, where we delved into the realms of Artificial Intelligence, the transformative potential of meditation, and the enigmatic boundaries of consciousness. Faggin's insights shed light on the intricate interplay between human intellect, technology, and the ineffable essence of being. Additionally, he offered illuminating perspectives on the nascent frontier of quantum computing, unveiling the nuanced tapestry of challenges and possibilities that lie therein.

    RED-EYE asked Federico Faggin if his research into consciousness and its impact on understanding the profound nature of human existence had given him insights into educational reforms. Could meditation become as fundamental as reading or counting in the curriculum?

    Faggin responded affirmatively, suggesting that it is "absolutely a good idea." The synthesis of mental, emotional, and spiritual awareness might very well be the key to navigating a world increasingly influenced by artificial intelligence. Faggin argued that it's not only crucial to comprehend AI intellectually but also with one's heart and intuition. The innate "gut feeling" is uniquely human, and this sense should be honed from an early age. "When you know something from your guts, that gut feeling, that is specifically human," he emphasized.

    Drawing parallels with courage and its relation to ethics, Faggin highlighted the importance of bold decisions rooted in moral compasses. Philosophers like Socrates have, across millennia, demonstrated the value of critical introspection, wisdom, and courageous actions. They serve as guiding stars in the vast universe of human experience and moral direction.

    Building on this foundation, the conversation steered towards the intricacies of AI. If AI is to become a significant tool in the human arsenal, how should we approach it?

    It is not an overstatement, according to Faggin, to say that our future might depend on our ability to understand and control AI. Humans will need to know and deeply understand how to use AI.

    However, AI's deterministic nature means that it lacks the deep, emotional and intuitive insights that humans possess. In response to RED-EYE's query on whether AI, like ChatGPT or Midjourney, could provide different answers to the same prompt based on a user's intentions or emotions, Faggin's reply was a resounding "no."

    This is because, in Faggin's view, AI lacks empathy. It operates on algorithms and data, devoid of sentiments, intuition, or intention perception. While there's emerging chatter about the potential for quantum computers to possess consciousness, Faggin emphasized a critical distinction: they might have consciousness, or "coscienza," but not self-awareness, "auto-coscienza." This lack of self-awareness means an absence of free will, "libero arbitrio." Without free will, consciousness loses its purpose, as it becomes non-operational. "Senza libero arbitrio, la coscienza non ha senso d'esistere perchè non è operazionale," Faggin succinctly put.

    Federico Faggin's perspectives underscore the importance of marrying technological advancement with profound human values. As AI becomes more entrenched in our daily lives, there's an ever-growing need for holistic education that nurtures not just intellectual acumen but also emotional and intuitive understanding.

    This short interview serves as a clarion call for a balanced approach to the future—one where technology and humanity harmoniously co-exist, each amplifying the other's strengths.

    Text by Gloria Maria Cappelletti, editor in chief, RED-EYE

    Link to the Virtual Editorial Experience

    All images by Smart Life Festival, RED-EYE metazine and Archive