Project AGI

Building an Artificial General Intelligence

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Saturday, 31 January 2015

Consciousness and AI

I really enjoyed reading this article Why can’t the world’s greatest minds solve the mystery of consciousness? published recently in the Guardian. It's an engaging re-exploration of the contemporary discourse on the classic mind-body dilemma.

One view is that the 'hard problem' of consciousness is an illusion. There is no separation between mind and body, and that consciousness is simply a result of the computational machinery of the brain - an algorithm. Whether you are willing to make this leap completely or not, there is no denying that the physical reality of the brain influences the experience and existence of consciousness.

This leads us to questions of the relationship between AI and consciousness. The topic is not often discussed. It is somewhat taboo, much like the topic of consciousness was itself, until recently. As the author points out with regard to an influential conference on consciousness at the University of Arizona in 1994, "in many quarters, consciousness was still taboo, too weird and new agey to take seriously, and some of the scientists in the audience were risking their reputations by attending."

However, the relationship between consciousness and intelligence is one of the most interesting aspects of cognition. Consciousness may even prove to be an important factor in higher intelligence, and conversely, understanding human level intelligence may shed light on the meaning and fabric of consciousness. We can only be certain of our own consciousness, yet we have no way to understand what it is.

There are a few salient attempts to describe cognition and consciousness in computational terms, two of which are listed below. Please leave a comment if you know of other examples. It will be great to see more active discussion on the topic.

The Computational Theory of Mind, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Edited by Edward N. Zalta, published in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2011.


Accounting for the computational basis of consciousness: a connectionist approach
By Ron Sun, published in Consciousness and Cognition, 1999.

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