Thursday, September 24, 2009

Contemplating Artificial Consciousness

Are we able to go beyond artificial intelligence and actually create synthetic consciousness? Can we create a robot that has subjective experience, and is aware of its own existence?

This question boils down to the whole mind/brain debate. Are we the product of purely deterministic laws of physics, in which case our brain is certainly amenable to simulation, or is the experience of consciousness that we seem to be able to perceive, that is, the act of knowing we are thinking, an impossibility for even the most complex of artificial intelligence systems? It is true that much of our brain function could be simulated by a machine, however what about the fact that we are aware that our brain is processing information. This ability seems very difficult to understand and I have been struggling to realize how it is even possible. However, it is still possible that this "consciousness" feeling is also itself an illusion brought about by chemical stimulus and interactions of neurons within the brain all that are simple deterministic processes.

The illusion of free thought has been discussed in great length by the classic philosophers, and it really opens up questions about free-will, responsibility, and personal identity. It is certain that a large breakthrough in either artificial intelligence or neuroscience could answer this question once and for all. Currently AI is a very long way off ever getting to the level of artificial consciousness. However, there is a tonne of research on topics dealing with re-creating the functionality of certain parts of the brain we take for granted. Sight, Recognition, Speech, are some of the complicated aspects that humans perform without second thought.

If you subscribe wholeheartedly to the laws of physics and accept the sort of materialistic science view of the world, then you must conclude that the brain is simply a complex computing device and therefore your own mind is completely beyond your actual control, which is scary. Even with the magic of quantum physics being brought to the forefront of scientific research, all it adds is a probabilistic element to the fundamental behavior of the universe. So, you're either a machine completely deterministic or some sort of randomized macro-entity; either way is not that great.

My conclusion with this difficult topic would be to take a dualist stance and say that consciousness is not a physical object and can not be created artificially, but rather, the soul equals consciousness. If this is taken to be true, one must now question where the soul came about in evolution.

*Special thanks to Ian for the insightful thoughts on this subject  

No comments:

Post a Comment