May 2, 2011 1 Comment
Researchers from the Cognitive Computing Research Group (CCRG) at the University of Memphis are developing a software bot known as LIDA (Learning Intelligent Distribution Agent) with what they believe to be cognition or conscious processes. That belief rests on the idea that LIDA is modeled on a software architecture that mirrors what some believe to be the process of consciousness, called GWT, or Global Workspace Theory. For example, LIDA follows a repetitive looping process that consists of taking in sensory input, writing it to memory, kicking off a process that scans this data store for recognizable events or artifacts, and, if something is recognized, it is broadcast to the global workspace of the system in a similar manner to the GWT model. Timings are even tuned to more or less match human reaction times and processing delays.
I’m sorry guys, but just because you have designed a system to model the latest theory of how sensory processing works in the brain does not automatically make it conscious. I could write an Excel macro with forced delays and process flows that resemble GWT. Would that make my spreadsheet conscious? I don’t THINK so. Years ago I wrote a trading program that utilized the brain model du jour, known as neural networks. Too bad it didn’t learn how to trade successfully, or I would be golfing tomorrow instead of going to work. The fact is, it was entirely deterministic, as is LIDA, and there is no more reason to suspect that it was conscious than an assembly line at an automobile factory.
Then again, the standard scientific view (at least that held by most neuroscientists and biologists) is that our brain processing is also deterministic, meaning that, given the exact set of circumstances two different times (same state of memories in the brain, same set of external stimuli), the resulting thought process would also be exactly the same. As such, so they would say, consciousness is nothing more than an artifact of the complexity of our brain. An artifact? I’m an ARTIFACT?
Following this reasoning from a logical standpoint, one would have to conclude that every living thing, including bacteria, has consciousness. In that view of the world, it simply doesn’t make sense to assert that there might be some threshold of nervous system complexity, above which an entity is conscious and below which it is not. It is just a matter of degree and you can only argue about aspects of consciousness in a purely probabilistic sense; e.g. “most cats probably do not ponder their own existence.” Taking this thought process a step further, one has to conclude that if consciousness is simply a by-product of neural complexity, then a computer that is equivalent to our brains in complexity must also be conscious. Indeed, this is the position of many technologists who ponder artificial intelligence, and futurists, such as Ray Kurzweil. And if this is the case, by logical extension, the simplest of electronic circuits is also conscious, in proportion to the degree in which bacteria is conscious in relation to human consciousness. So, even an electronic circuit known as a flip-flop (or bi-stable multivibrator), which consists of a few transistors and stores a single bit of information, is conscious. I wonder what it feels like to be a flip-flop?
Evidence abounds that there is more to consciousness than a complex system. For one particular and very well research data point, check out Pim van Lommel’s book “Consciousness Beyond Life.” Or my book “The Universe – Solved!”
My guess is that consciousness consists of the combination of a soul and a processing component, like a brain, that allows that soul to experience the world. This view is very consistent with that of many philosophers, mystics, and shamans throughout history and throughout the world (which confluence of consistent yet independent thought is in itself very striking). If true, a soul may someday make a decision to occupy a machine of sufficient complexity and design to experience what it is like to be the “soul in a machine”. When that happens, we can truly say that the bot is conscious. But it does not make sense to consider consciousness a purely deterministic emergent property.