To someone who succumbs to the consciousness fallacy, this history must be deeply disappointing. Because consciousness has not magically appeared, we must be missing something deep about intelligence. But if we let go of the fallacy, we immediately benefit in two major ways. The first is in ethics: An intelligence that is not conscious is not a person, so any ethical problems related to the treatment of an AI system evaporate. The second is that AI may be much less dangerous than many people believe. Without a consciousness to drive it, there is no reason to expect such an intelligence to rise against us.

If the consciousness fallacy is indeed a fallacy, then the AI of the next decades will look very different from what we have been conditioned to expect from science fiction. We have been expecting software and robots to one day have secrets and dreams like we do. Instead, even as they advance almost magically, our AI tools are likely to continue to derive all of their root volition from us. Your self-driving car will take you places you want to go and even make suggestions. But it won’t argue, and when you’re done with it, it will just sit in your garage, recharging. There is simply no business value in pursuing a self-driving car that has all of these properties but also wants to go to college. If we can make the first without making the second, then things will be much less complicated for us. And much less frightening.