The secret of consciousness, with Daniel C. Dennett

The secret of consciousness, with Daniel C. DennettI think Dennett has the best view of consciousness as an emergent property.  His emphasis is on a gradient of consciousness, that it can occur at even the smallest single-celled creature.

Dennett believes that there’s every degree of sensitivity and reactivity right down to bacteria. “This idea that there’s this salient marvellous property that you either have or you don’t, that’s the mistake. Bacteria are remarkably adroit, sensitive and self-protective and every cell in our bodies is like a bacterium in this way.” He says that if people knew more about what single celled organisms can do they would realise that they are all conscious.

“What do you think consciousness is? As we build up in complexity from bacteria through to starfish to birds and mammals and us it seems to me the most important threshold is actually us, that we have the bigger and more impressive bag of tricks than any other species. But that doesn’t mean that we have this utterly different phenomenon that happens in our heads and it doesn’t happen in any other heads.”

Robot homes in on consciousness by passing self-awareness test

Robot homes in on consciousness by passing self-awareness test

This is an interesting approach to exploring consciousness.  Reproducing a specific test allows them to look at mechanisms or processes that provide a self-aware response.  It will be interesting to see how specific they were in coding the responses generated.  Is there an awareness code that looks at responses and generates an ‘I’ view or is that somehow a spontaneous, uncoded step through some sort of neural network or non-procedural code?

If consciousness is really a purely materialistic phenomena, then maybe a set of awareness and sentience modules that handle various general situations are not far from where we as humans have evolved.  One way to look at our consciousness is a set of circuits that provide awareness and thinking that ‘feels’ like us.  But just like the robot, they are not a separate conscious ‘feeling’ but a simulation or code.

A question is whether trying to engineer a consciousness that looks human would miss an emergent consciousness that develops from the machine.  If that possibility is explored, you would need to take a different approach of trying to uncover a possible native consciousness.

IN A robotics lab on the eastern bank of the Hudson River, New York, three small humanoid robots have a conundrum to solve.

They are told that two of them have been given a “dumbing pill” that stops them talking. In reality the push of a button has silenced them, but none of them knows which one is still able to speak. That’s what they have to work out.

Unable to solve the problem, the robots all attempt to say “I don’t know”. But only one of them makes any noise. Hearing its own robotic voice, it understands that it cannot have been silenced. “Sorry, I know now! I was able to prove that I was not given a dumbing pill,” it says.

Full Post at www.newscientist.com

DeepDream – Visualizing Neural Networks

DeepDream - a code example for visualizing Neural Networks

Neural networks are not procedural code.  They’ve been treated as a black box where we can’t really learn anything from looking at the internal values or weights.  This article, and the post in the link of the excerpted text below, shows that there is a lot of information embedded in these networks.

If a consciousness were to emerge in a very complex neural net, might it somehow manifest in the inner workings of the black box?  Maybe patterns of activation that shift more than expected?  Maybe a changing of weights and feedback even when not in training mode?

It seems we would need to think about looking for some sort of awareness, and make tools such as this visualizer to detect it.

Two weeks ago we blogged about a visualization tool designed to help us understand how neural networks work and what each layer has learned. In addition to gaining some insight on how these networks carry out classification tasks, we found that this process also generated some beautiful art.

Robots Unplugged: Will We Face a Man-Machine Conflict?

Man makes robots. Now, a robot has killed a man. Though not the first time, the tragic incident that involved an assembly robot reportedly grabbing a young worker at a Volkswagen plant in Germany and crushing him to death between metal recently has been labelled in some quarters as “a man-machine” conflict (as opposed to the age-old man-animal one). In this context, it is pertinent to reflect on the idea of a possible apocalypse that may be unleashed, if all the science fiction stories we read and movies we watch are to come alive some day.

If we create a conscious robot and copy its brain, there are going to be two brains. Will they have different consciousnesses?

This is a question of individuation and the answer will entirely depend upon the given theory of consciousness. I will answer in the context of the theory I have developed over the past ~12 years and to appear in my book On The Origin Of Experience the first draft chapter of which can be found here: On The Origin Of Experience .

I begin by dismissal of the idea that you can construct an electronic brain for reasons given in the following answer: Steven Ericsson-Zenith’s answer to What is the computing power of the average human brain, including all […]