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Friday, August 29, 2014

Artificial vs. Synthetic Consciousness

Synthetic intelligence is another term used for the artificial intelligence which gives the meaning that the intelligence of a machine doesn’t need to be an imitation of the human intelligence, it can have a genuine form of intelligence off  its own.  It means that the machine would generate intelligence in their own way instead of duplicating how humans make decisions.
In this article a somewhat similar concept is discussed regarding the consciousness. In here the term synthetic consciousness is used in the sense that a machine can become conscious with different mechanisms rather than using the mechanisms of the human brain. But in artificial consciousness the machine is created by directly simulating or duplicating the human brain.
According to the synthetic consciousness concept, it asks the question do we need to replicate the architecture of the brain to create a conscious machine. It’s kind of like asking, do we need to make an airplane that flap wins like a bird to make it fly. An airplane can fly without flapping wins. But the problem is that, though they both fly, they have differences in some functions. For an example a bird can take off without using a runaway, land on a tree. Like that we may be able to replicate some of the functions without using original mechanisms which are needed for something to become conscious, but that may not be sufficient. Also, we cannot be sure that we know all the functions either. Since most of our definitions about consciousness are not complete it will be somewhat hard to recreate them all. Other than that our level of understanding about some of the functions that we know to be part of the consciousness may not be enough too.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean that this approach doesn’t work either. It’s a matter of finding out all the functions of the consciousness. Although the problem is that different theories tend to put different things inside the domain of consciousness. Also, what’s meant by each function (ex: subjectivity, awareness) may also be different in different theories. But in a way the synthetic consciousness can be used as a tool to test those theories about consciousness. All we have to do is make machines according to different theories and see if they are conscious. But there are two problems. One is that it is not that easy to create these functions. Two is that we cannot really know if someone or a machine is conscious.
An important problem in philosophy about consciousness is known as the hard problem of consciousness which is proposed by David Chalmers. It divides the problems about consciousness into two categories, hard problems and easy problems. And the hard problems are questions like,
  • "How is it that some organisms are subjects of experience?"
  • "Why does awareness of sensory information exist at all?"
  • "Why do qualia exist?"
  • "Why is there a subjective component to experience?"
  • "Why aren’t we philosophical zombies?"
And the easy problems are,
  • The ability to discriminate, categorize, and react to environmental stimuli
  • The integration of information by a cognitive system
  • The reputability of mental states
  • The ability of a system to access its own internal states
  • The focus of attention
  • The deliberate control of behavior
  • The difference between wakefulness and sleep.
Though it is easy to answer the easy problems, the hard problems are not easy to understand or answer. One response to this theory proposed by Daniel Dennett is that  there is no hard problems separate from the easy problems. If you solve the easy problems the hardest problems will be automatically solved. This can be tested using AI. If we can create a machine which have all the functions described in the easy problems of consciousness, then we can see if the machine can gain consciousness.
Another way is to get the synthetic consciousness into a lower level. It means that instead of creating mechanisms to output the functions of the whole brain, make a network of machines to output the functions of different brain areas. For an example, we can create devices which do all the functions of brain areas like temporal lobe, occipital lobe, parietal lobe or frontal lobe. We can also go deeper with this by creating devices which has the same functions of neurons and connect them. But when we go deeper and deeper the synthetic consciousness moves more and more towards artificial consciousness. Nevertheless, in here also the limit of our knowledge on the functions of brain areas or neurons will be a problem.
There is one thought experiment proposed by Ned Block about neuron functions. It’s calledChinese Nation (also known as Chines Gym or China Brain). In this thought experiment the neural structure of the brain is created by assigning each citizen in China to simulate the actions of a one neuron in the brain using telephones or walkie-talkies to simulate the axons and dendrites that connect neurons. Although Ned Block argued that this cannot create a mind, some philosophers, like Daniel Dennett,  have argued that the China brain can create a mental state.
In artificial consciousness approaches, we create a machine which has an architecture similar to the brain and the nervous system. This approach doesn’t require a full understanding of the consciousness. Instead, we can use this approach to study and understand how is the consciousness emerged through the mechanisms of the brain. So for this approach, we need torecreate the neural network structure in the brain (similar to the approach where we make devicesthat has the functions of neurons in above paragraph). But the problems is that our understanding of the brain is not complete either. We must understand the processing levels in the brain. What is the lowest processing unit in the brain we can replace with devises? Is it the neurons? Or is there any molecular level processing? Or even quantum level processing which was proposed in the Orchestrated Objective Reduction by Sir Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff. We cannot use this approach without answering these questions.
Like that there are two approaches of creating consciousness. And both of these approaches as important questions. How does consciousness emerge from the brain? And Is it only the brain that can have consciousness? Can there be other mechanisms that can create consciousness? Hopefully we will find answers to both of these questions in the future.