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Could a computer ever be conscious?

Consciousness, or our awareness of ourselves and the world around us, is central to our existence. Fascinatingly, it is also notoriously difficult to define. Is it unique to humans or other living creatures, or could robots one day have it to?

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Experts and Influencers

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Experts In Cognition

Robin Hanson    Economics Professor
Bryan Caplan and I recently discussed if brain emulations “feel.” In such discussions, many prefer to wait-and-see, saying folks with strong views are prematurely confident. Surely future researchers will have far more evidence, right? Actually, no; we already know pretty much everything relevant we are ever going to know about what really “feels”. ...
04 Dec 2009    Source

Sub-Arguments Of This Expert:
Do Gödellian arguments refute a computational model of the mind?

Alan Turing    Father of Computer Science
[Suppose] the only way by which one could be sure that a machine thinks is to be the machine and to feel oneself thinking. ... Likewise according to this view the only way to know that a man thinks is to be that particular man. ... It may be the most logical view to hold but [...] A is liable to believe 'A thinks but B does not' whilst B believes 'B thinks but A does not'. Instead of arguing continually over this point it is usual to have the polite convention that everyone thinks.
01 Oct 1950    Source

Experts In Philosophy

Daniel Dennett    Philosophy Professor
The best reason for believing that robots might some day become conscious is that we human beings are conscious, and we are a sort of robot ourselves. That is, we are extraordinarily complex self-controlling, self-sustaining physical mechanisms, designed over the eons by natural selection, and operating according to the same well-understood principles that govern all the other physical processes in living things...
14 Apr 1994    Source

Experts In Science

Jeff Hawkins    Neuroscientist, Inventor of Palm Pilot
Mostly Agree
Machines will understand the world using the same methods humans do; they will be creative. Some will be self-aware, they will communicate via language, and humans will recognize that machines have these qualities. Machines will not be like humans in all aspects, emotionally, physically. If you think dogs and other mammals are conscious, then you will probably think some machines are conscious. If you think consciousness is a purely human phenomenon, then you won't think machines are conscious.
01 Jun 2008    Source

Experts In Philosophy

John Searle    Philosophy Professor
[The Chinese Room Argument] is a simple demonstration that the computational model of consciousness is not sufficient for consciousness. ... Its point is simply this: Computation is defined syntactically. It is defined in terms of the manipulation of symbols. But the syntax by itself can never be sufficient for the sort of contents that characteristically go with conscious thoughts. Just having zeros and ones by themselves is insufficient to guarantee mental content, conscious or unconscious.
01 Mar 1993    Source

Sub-Arguments Of This Expert:
Is the unconscious philosophical zombie possible?

William Dembski    Intelligent Design Theorist
Simulating brain-states will not throw any light on cognition. Cognitive scientists [mistakenly believe] if through concrete computer programs (algorithms) they can simulate all important aspects of human intelligence within a complete information-processing package, then they will have proved their case that human intelligence is a species of artificial intelligence.
01 Jan 1996    Source

Sub-Arguments Of This Expert:
Can reductionist methods help explain consciousness?

Experts In Science

Martin Gardner    Mathematician, Science Writer
I belong to a small group of thinkers called the "mysterians". ... We mysterians are persuaded that no computer of the sort we know how to build—that is, one made with wires and switches—will ever cross a threshold to become aware of what it is doing. No chess program, however advanced, will know it is playing chess anymore than a washing machine knows it is washing clothes.
01 Aug 2007    Source

Experts In Cognition

Steven Pinker    Psychology Professor
How can I be so confident that consciousness is secreted by the brain tissue in my skull, rather than lurking in the software that my brain is running? ... Perhaps the human mind, a mere product of evolution [...], is biologically incapable of understanding the solution. If so, our invention the computer would present us with the ultimate tease. Never mind whether a computer can be conscious. Our [own] consciousness, the most obvious thing there is, may be forever beyond our conceptual grasp.
18 Aug 1997    Source

Experts In Economics

Bryan Caplan    Economics Professor
In any case, suppose we took neurology as seriously as Robin claims to. The right lesson to draw would be that thoughts and feelings require a biological brain. There's no way you can dissect a brain, then infer that a computer program that simulated that brain would really be conscious. That makes about as much sense as dissecting a human brain, then inferring that a computer program that simulated a brain could, like a real brain, be poured over a fire to extinguish it.
30 Nov 2009    Source


Add Your TakeOnIt (click to expand, no login required)
0 Points      dionisos      22 Aug 2016      Stance on Question: Agree
Yes, we are one example.

0 Points      MTC      23 Feb 2013      Stance on Question: Agree
It is theoretically possible, given powerful enough computers (among other requirements), to create a computer replica of the human brain in enough detail to emulate the consciousness of a human being. If that was done, the computer would be, in every way that matters, conscious.

1 Point      Brian Smith      17 Aug 2011      General Comment
Does a human have consciousness?
Your current consciousness is made up of absorbed data and experiences.

Does a Computer have consciousness?
A computer Absorbs data through a webcam, collects data through the microphone ect.
Does it think or not think?
The microphone will adjust the level of volume, based upon the level of input. Is that via choice? Did it decide to do that? Is it conscious because it changed its settings? A lot of people would say that a person is different from a computer, because they can think.

Well, defining thinking? I could say that the computer is thinking because its taking my voice and adjusting the volume accordingly. Its no different from a human thinking about having chicken tonight instead of pork. Or thinking about going to go pay there bill, or do whatever. Its ultimately just a more complex version of a computer. A program response. Functioning under the specific programs, one has accumulated from there upbringing and society.

If you ask someone a question and they give you a response, does that make them conscious? No. its still a function. Based on a programmed thought process.
When the computer adjusts its volume automatically. Who defined what level of sound would be ‘medium’. it was programmed with a opinion of someone’s idea, of what they thought ‘medium’ was.

We are all programmed with different opinions based on our individual life experiences. Ultimately our decision is made by someone else. Parent values/political values ect. Which were programmed into us, though out the years. No different from a computer being programmed.

Humans are not conscious. They Automate through life.
When your on the computer can you see outside of it? The wall behind it? can you feel the chair your sitting on? the temperature of the room, the breeze as it touches your skin? Are you aware of your body right now?
No, your completely absorbed in the reading these words. Your not aware of any of those things, unless its brought to your attention.

Bio-chemical organic reactions are patterned sequences the body learns to repeat. Such as seeing the face of a romantic partner, you feel overwhelmed with love because the brain releases a specific sequence of bio-chemicals every time you see that particular person. When that person goes away for a work trip for example you will withdraw from the emotional high your used to experiencing from having that person around and having them trigger that sequence. so the brain adapts by releasing a depressive combination of chemical reactions so that you (the combination of personality which make up your automated consciousness) go out of your way to resolve this problem by calling your partner or asking them to come home etc. So the body can have its 'love high' pattern repeated, which its become accustomed too.

Emotion is a programmed behavioral response for humans, just like it is for robots.
The human body is an organic machine.
Robots with equal intelligence to humans deserve equal rights.

1 Point      Adam Atlas      24 Apr 2010      Stance on Question: Agree
If evolution can build a conscious machine, we surely can. (At the very least, it is not metaphysically out-of-bounds to us, even if it turns out to be intractably difficult.) Evolution isn't magic, and even if, by some insanely implausible set of mutations, our brains actually evolved to take advantage of some exotic physical laws that can't be simulated by a Turing machine, and this is absolutely required for consciousness, we could still build new computers that use the same phenomena. If proteins can put together this kind of amazing machinery, human manufacturing methods (even already-existing ones, quite likely) should be more than enough to do so.

(I'm amused by Searle's statement: "Just having zeros and ones by themselves is insufficient to guarantee mental content, conscious or unconscious." Well, of course "zeros and ones by themselves" are insufficient. Nobody's saying my iPod is conscious.)

(And I'm baffled by Caplan's statement: "That makes about as much sense as…inferring that a computer program that simulated a brain could, like a real brain, be poured over a fire to extinguish it." Do people do that with real brains?)

0 Points      blacktrance      10 Feb 2011      Stance on Question: Agree
"If evolution can build a conscious machine, we surely can."


1 Point      JGWeissman      06 Mar 2010      Stance on Question: Agree
Computers structured like human brains could be conscious in the same way humans are conscious, and I would be greatly surprised if that were the only way.

1 Point      Packbat      09 Jan 2010      Stance on Question: Agree
At the turn of the third millennium, it has become abundantly clear that the human brain is the seat of consciousness in the organism, and that this brain works through essentially deterministic, discrete processes - which implies that the effective algorithm of the mind is computable by a sufficiently powerful Turing-complete computer.

Whether any such program will be written and run is an open question, but there is no particular reason to doubt the possibility.

0 Points      Clive      29 Apr 2009      Stance on Question: Neutral
This is a bloody good question. I think that no computer has so far made consciousness but one cannot rule out the possibilities of the future.