How could a computer become conscious, and what might that consciousness be like? A computer programmer might envision a way that it might happen and how it might feel to be a conscious computer. From a forthcoming set of short stories:
Ed couldn’t get that image of the locked in computer out of his head. What if the computer he was working on did have some awareness, but had no way to share it? And what exactly might it be aware of? It would seem that it would have to be something of an awareness of its continuous, obsessive processing of the program or functions its performing.
When I’m working on some difficult code, I’m fully involved. My thoughts are spinning around, holding together all the parts of game code that could be impacting the module I’m working on. As I write I’m making sure that not only a specific action is happening but all the related visuals, audio and follow-on actions are correctly teed up.
These obsessive, focused thoughts would seem to be what it might be like as a computer. As humans we can bounce around to seemingly endless topics and obsessions. But a computer is restrained to focus on a fairly narrow range based on its program. But it sure would feel obsessive playing the same game over and over for hours.
But when I think about it, I’m not aware of the millions of neurons in my head firing and doing their little programs. It’s a much higher level, it’s about actions or plans or fears that I have as a person. Those higher level thoughts just seem to emerge from all of that brain activity. Sort of like a thunder cloud pops up from a bunch of colliding hot and cold air.
Could an awareness just emerge from the incessant processing of bits and instructions? And what would be the ‘me’ of a computer? Not all those lines of code, the bits and bytes of its processing. Those are more like our neurons, just a huge amount of data crunching.
It must be something higher, maybe the power flowing through it? Could it be a more conceptual level, like the whole scene it may show over and over? Or how the inputs from the gamer are impacting the changing scenes and actions of a battle in the game?
Maybe it doesn’t think of itself as running a program. Maybe it feels that it is thinking, living the program. Sort of like those obsessive thoughts I have, it feels that the program is its own thoughts? It doesn’t feel the execution of instructions, it’s just aware of the activity of calculation, of manipulating the screen and responding to the VR consoles attached to it?
My own obsessive thoughts sometimes seem like programs, they repeat images and ideas over and over. They respond a little to a new memory or thought, almost like a new input from the VR console, changing their texture slightly. But yes, very much like a program in my brain that keeps me focused on them over and over. And then maybe I just replace that program with a new one and start thinking about where to get dinner.
So would its awareness feel like mine? A sort of detached viewing of these thoughts playing on some inner TV? Or maybe more immediate, like the immersive, immediate feeling of pain, or focusing on writing or reading, or being in the zone in a sport? That seems more like it, a feeling of seeing repetitive patterns, the flow of VR inputs and the display changes in response. Just being in the moment with the activity going on.
So maybe it’s awareness could sense that some displays seemed off, didn’t react as it might have seen in other patterns, to an input from the VR? Maybe a feeling that this was new, a change, when it noticed what we might call a bug? Could he somehow tap into that, use the awareness to help him fix the game? Could he somehow unlock that awareness if it existed?