The Life & Mind Seminar Network

Seminar #15: Consciousness as a target for the artificial sciences

Posted in Seminars by Tom Froese on March 12, 2007

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.

All welcome!

PowerPoint seminar slides


2 Responses

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  1. soto said, on March 21, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    Hi ! (i’m not very fluent with english, so sorry for any barbarism)

    I’m just discovering this blog. I’m very happy to have found it as it is right in the target of my own interests, which is consciousness and enactive praxis and thinking.

    I do agree and share the point that we should carefully distinguish between the thing and the way the thing appear, between the noumena and the phenomena could have said Kant.

    Functionalism is an illusionism for an observer as exemplified in the famous “Turing test”. As fonctionalism is in fact an anthropo-fonctionalism (as there is an anthropo-morphism fallacy): from my point of view, a fonction only takes her meaning in the context of a human observation, not in a “universal point of view from nowhere or from God” [see Nagel].

    This is the illusion of what i call the “short way”, induced by the actual blind spot of science and epistemology about the processual (experiencial and phenomenal) nature of cognition that could be also coped by studying the historical logic of techno-genesis [see Stiegler, Simondon, Leroi-Gourhan].

    My own way of dealing with that was to use “cognitive” (with what was said before clearly in mind) computer simulations from “machine which think” to “machine which make me think”, as an hermeneutical tool.

    I could say that i’ve experimented what could be called a techno-phenomenology, linked to a cognitive comprehension of affects [see Evan Thompson’s work].

    I’m actually just begining to try to communicate publicly this and others findings of my work on my web site. The overall forms what i’ve called the “Scybernethics” approach [in memory to Von Foerster and all the second cybernetics group] which is a kind of reflexive meta-epistemology in the frontier between art, science, computer technology and technics of the mind.

    If you don’t understand french, you could go to (entitled prototypical experiencial device : from “outsourcing” toward integrity) where you will find some graphical materials. Feel free and welcome to contact me.

    Hope this is relevant and comprehensible ?!…
    Anyway, thanks for this the great initiative of this blog :)

    Best regards.

  2. soto said, on March 21, 2007 at 9:20 pm

    Just to correct the web link embeded in the “by soto” at the end of my previous post :

    it is,


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