Artificial Consciousness

Researchers at Cornell University have created a robot that they claim is conscious, albeit in a very limited fashion. While it’s unlikely to turn Buddhist or torment itself with existentialism, it does ‘discover itself’ – rather than being programmed with a rigid model of its own function and of the world around it, it learns about its locomotive abilities and the terrain it is placed on with a trial-and-error approach that enables it to overcome new obstacles – and the amputation of one of its limbs. I, for one, welcome an old memetic catchphrase

One thought on “Artificial Consciousness”

  1. Very interesting stuff, especially since I recently finished “Blindsight” by Peter Watts, a novel that asks deep questions about consciousness (and the *need* for it).

    Quite possibly, Watts would argue that the robot is intelligent, but *not* self-conscious. His take — as far as I can reckon from the novel and his website and a few interviews — is that consciousness is a freak development (or even, a ‘hack’, or a ‘fraud’), as all the things we’re doing (as humans) can also be done (actually, are already done to a great extent) on a subconscious level, and consciousness wastes brain power that could be used much more effectively by remaining non self-aware (unaware).

    I’m not a biologist, nor a scientist researching consciousness (my expertise lies in engineering), so I don’t know if he’s right or not. But “Blindisght” made me think very hard, which is one of the things I appraciate most in a good SF story or novel.

    Also, my thoughts as a layman are that maybe self-consciousness, through its aesthetic sense, paved the way to abstract thinking and a search for the unknown, which might have lead to a more long-term kind of planning, which does lead to increased fitness. In the way that your conscious mind wonders about strange things, and as such sets your unconscious mind — which uses your brains more effective — on track to a new insight or discovery.

    Or, in other words, if an unaware mind can be just as creative as a self-conscious one, then self-awareness does indeed seem like an evolutionary appendix.

    Also, I wonder where communication comes into the self-consciousness/fitness equation. While self-awareness is less effective in using brain power, it does seem to ease communication. Compare to the ‘Chinese Room’ way of communicating that (seems to) come with unawareness, which does seem to require more brain power as well, and I’m unsure which way of communicating is more effective. And I do reckon that communicating new, important insights to your family or fellow congeners is much more effective than every single individual finding it out for herself.

    And John Barg ( ) seems to argue that consciousness exists to help create ever more complex nonconscious processes, and might as such eliminate itself in the long run. Consciousness as a necessary evil until we reach the next stage.

    Right now, I’m not sure of anything, but find thinking about it highly fascinating.

    (BTW: Paul, and everybody at Futurismic: keep up the good work. I frequently log into Futurismic, and while not every article takes my fancy, I do check out all the headers. Just don’t have enough time to put in much comments.)

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