Seminar #15: Consciousness as a target for the artificial sciences
The next Life and Mind seminar will be on Wednesday, the 14th of March, at 15:00 in room ARUN 404A. Steve Torrance will be leading a discussion on:
Consciousness as a target for the artificial sciences.
The topic of this talk is: The realizability of Artificial Consciousness. The basic message is: It’s a long way off. No surprises there, perhaps. Except that some tenaciously beg to differ and see it as imminent. The point of the discussion is that dealing with the question in proper depth helps us to get a better grip both on the nature of (actual and possible) consciousness and on the scope and limits of ‘the sciences of the artificial’. I’ll make three distinctions.
First, between ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ artificial consciousness (AC). It’s mainly the strong AC project that I’ll be considering here. (Actually AC researchers are rather coy about whether they’re pursuing the first, the second, or both.)
Second, between ‘thin’ and ‘thick’ conceptions of consciousness. I’ll argue that an inadequate, ‘thin’ conception of consciousness dominates the thought of many devotees of AC, as well as the thought of defenders of traditional (anti-physicalist or anti-computational) approaches to consciousness and mind.
Third, there’s the distinction between ‘functional’ and ‘phenomenal’ consciousness. Many AC workers see the former as a kind of ‘half-way house’ to realizing strong AC. I’ll argue that you can’t have functional consciousness alone.When we talk about functional consciousness we’re talking about the functional aspects of a (phenomenally) conscious organism.
On the ‘thick’ conception of consciousness, there are perhaps different ways to elaborate this. I’ll sketch one approach. This consists in seeing consciousness as kind of ‘Grand Inventory’ of miscellaneous strands. All or most of these have to be addressed head-on in any serious AC research plan. This gives mixed news. Strong AC is a long way further off (and may require as yet undreamt-of technological platforms). But at least we will have a more realistic set of success-criteria for the enterprise. This probably has general implications for how we view the past and future of ‘the sciences of the artificial’. And we will also have learned more about the nature of natural consciousness.