Re: How would a computer know if it were conscious?

From: Quentin Anciaux <>
Date: Sat, 2 Jun 2007 23:36:18 +0200

I'd like to add a "definition" of consciousness.

Consciousness is the inner narative composed of sounds/images/feelings which
present itself as 'I'. What is (the origin/meaning) of 'I', I don't know,
but 'I' is the consciousness.


On Saturday 02 June 2007 22:13:30 Hal Finney wrote:
> Various projects exist today aiming at building a true Artificial
> Intelligence. Sometimes these researchers use the term AGI, Artificial
> General Intelligence, to distinguish their projects from mainstream AI
> which tends to focus on specific tasks. A conference on such projects
> will be held next year,
> Suppose one of these projects achieves one of the milestone goals of
> such efforts; their AI becomes able to educate itself by reading books
> and reference material, rather than having to have facts put in by
> the developers. Perhaps it requires some help with this, and various
> questions and ambiguities need to be answered by humans, but still this is
> a huge advancement as the AI can now in principle learn almost any field.
> Keep in mind that this AI is far from passing the Turing test; it is able
> to absorb and digest material and then answer questions or perhaps even
> engage in a dialog about it. But its complexity is, we will suppose,
> substantially less than the human brain.
> Now at some point the AI reads about the philosophy of mind, and the
> question is put to it: are you conscious?
> How might an AI program go about answering a question like this?
> What kind of reasoning would be applicable? In principle, how would
> you expect a well-designed AI to decide if it is conscious? And then,
> how or why is the reasoning different if a human rather than an AI is
> answering them?
> Clearly the AI has to start with the definition. It needs to know what
> consciousness is, what the word means, in order to decide if it applies.
> Unfortunately such definitions usually amount to either a list of
> synonyms for consciousness, or use the common human biological heritage
> as a reference. From the Wikipedia: "Consciousness is a quality of the
> mind generally regarded to comprise qualities such as subjectivity,
> self-awareness, sentience, sapience, and the ability to perceive the
> relationship between oneself and one's environment." Here we have four
> synonyms and one relational description which would arguably apply to
> any computer system that has environmental sensors, unless "perceive"
> is also merely another synonym for conscious perception.
> It looks to me like AIs, even ones much more sophisticated than I am
> describing here, are going to have a hard time deciding whether they
> are conscious in the human sense. Since humans seem essentially unable
> to describe consciousness in any reasonable operational terms, there
> doesn't seem any acceptable way for an AI to decide whether the word
> applies to itself.
> And given this failure, it calls into question the ease with which
> humans assert that they are conscious. How do we really know that
> we are conscious? For example, how do we know that what we call
> consciousness is what everyone else calls consciousness? I am worried
> that many people believe they are conscious simply because as children,
> they were told they were conscious. They were told that consciousness
> is the difference between being awake and being asleep, and assume on
> that basis that when they are awake they are conscious. Then all those
> other synonyms are treated the same way.
> Yet most humans would not admit to any doubt that they are conscious.
> For such a slippery and seemingly undefinable concept, it seems odd
> that people are so sure of it. Why, then, can't an AI achieve a similar
> degree of certainty? Do you think a properly programmed AI would ever
> say, yes, I am conscious, because I have subjectivity, self-awareness,
> sentience, sapience, etc., and I know this because it is just inherent in
> my artificial brain? Presumably we could program the AI to say this,
> and to believe it (in whatever sense that word applies), but is it
> something an AI could logically conclude?
> Hal

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Received on Sat Jun 02 2007 - 17:36:31 PDT

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