If consciousness is 100% physical, we would have to conclude that the same kind of consciousness that we experience as humans can be generated b
Feeling like a functionalist? The substrate doesn't matter. The internet could be conscious in its own weird way. Consider the consciousness of bees. How hard can it be to drum up a consciousness in a chip?
Researchers continue to probe the limits of the brain's plasticity
To the brain, electronic hardware is no different from flesh and blood, suggests a study at the University of California, Berkeley. In the experiment, monkeys learned to control a computer cursor—a stand-in for a bionic limb—through microelectrodes wiretapping their motor cortex. Although this feat is nothing new, the researchers showed for the first time that a stable memory of the new accessory had formed in the brain.
During normal development, a baby learns to control its limbs by creating a mental map of the movable parts of its body—a motor homunculus of sorts. The new finding parallels that process, says neuroscientist Jose Carmena, who led the study, “but it’s about a prosthetic device, and that’s what is profound about it. We’re talking about an extension of your body’s schema.” In other words, once the brain-machine interface gets up to speed, our gray matter might already be set up to achieve effortless, plug-and-play-like control of electronic add-ons.
The cello/brainwave duet explored the relationship a performer has to the music she's playing.
Cellist Katinka Kleijn performed both halves of a duet Sunday night. Her hands played the cello, and her brain, hooked up to a headset that detects cerebral electrical signals, played itself. Kleijn has been playing the cello for 35 years. Her brain was a little less experienced.
“Intelligence in the Human Machine,” the cello/brain duet, explored the relationship a performer has to the music she’s playing. During the performance, at Chicago’s Cultural Center, Kleijn wore an Emotiv EPOC, a neuroheadset with 14 sensors that attach to the scalp and detect brainwaves. In front of her, a laptop flashed a word and a few measures of music. She then played the music on her cello, interpreting the word onscreen. At the same time, her brainwaves, translated to audio, changed sounds as she reacted to the word.
The Internet now already has a couple of billion nodes. Each node is a computer. Each one of these computers contains a couple of billion transistors, so it is in principle possible that the complexity of the Internet is such that it feels like something to be conscious. I mean, that’s what it would be if the Internet as a whole has consciousness. Depending on the exact state of the transistors in the Internet, it might feel sad one day and happy another day, or whatever the equivalent is in Internet space. (…)
What I’m serious about is that the Internet, in principle, could have conscious states. Now, do these conscious states express happiness? Do they express pain? Pleasure? Anger? Red? Blue? That really depends on the exact kind of relationship between the transistors, the nodes, the computers. It’s more difficult to ascertain what exactly it feels. But there’s no question that in principle it could feel something. (…)
Christof Koch, American neuroscientist working on the neural basis of consciousness, Professor of Cognitive and Behavioral Biology at California Institute of Technology, The Nature of Consciousness: How the Internet Could Learn to Feel, The Atlantic, Aug 22, 2012.
The Special Issue on Mind Uploading (Vol. 4, issue 1, June 2012) of the International Journal of Machine Consciousness, just released, “constitutes a significant milestone in the history of mind uploading research: the first-ever collection of scientific and philosophical papers on the theme of mind uploading,” as Ben Goertzel and Matthew Ikle’ note in the Introduction to this issue.
“Mind uploading” is an informal term that refers to transferring the mental contents from a human brain into a different substrate, such as a digital, analog, or quantum computer. It’s also known as “whole brain emulation” and “substrate-independent minds.”
Serious mind uploading researchers have emerged recently, taking this seemingly science-fictional notion seriously and pursuing it via experimental and theoretical research programs, Goertzel and Ilke’ note.
"A common assumption in the philosophy of mind is that of substrate-independence. The idea is that mental states can supervene on any of a broad class of physical substrates. Provided a system implements the right sort of computational structures and processes, it can be associated with conscious experiences. It is not an essential property of consciousness that it is implemented on carbon-based biological neural networks inside a cranium: silicon-based processors inside a computer could in principle do the trick as well."
"If machines can and do become conscious, will we take their feelings into account? The history of our relations with the only nonhuman sentient beings we have encountered so far – animals – gives no ground for confidence that we would recognise sentient robots as beings with moral standing and interests that deserve consideration."
"Dr. Tononi has a different approach, and a different opinion about the consciousness. He believes that he can translate the conscious process into mathematical formula, and if he and his colleagues manage to do that, then the doctors would be able to measure the consciousness, just like they are able to measure the blood pressure. In order to do so, they are using a series of mathematical formulas which are usually used in the case of computers."
"Dr. Tononi believes that the consciousness is not strictly related to the amount of information our minds receive. He believes that the information from our own minds is similar to the information from the computers. He believes that the brain stores information just like a computer or any other digital devices can store information. He believes that when we are sleeping the brain simply stores less information then when we are awake, and that’s about it. There are many people who believe that Dr. Tononi’s information lacks certain elements, and believe that the theory is still in its infancy."
"Those who study machine consciousness are trying to develop self-organising systems that will initiate actions and learn from their surroundings. The hope is that if we can create or replicate consciousness in a machine we would learn just what makes consciousness possible."
Kevin Kelly: ... maybe we can explore some of the consequences of the technology. Have you changed your mind about [the impact of VR] very much?
Jaron Lanier: Sure, I mean, it’s broadened quite a bit. In the ’80s, I had maybe an outright mystical approach to it. For me, the very most important thing about VR was that when you were in it, you’d feel your own existence, in the sense that if all the sensory input is artificial, then what’s floating there, that’s your consciousness. So to me, it was sort of proof that subjectivity is real; that consciousness is real, that it’s not just a construct that we put on things. Just to notice that you really exist, to me, was the very, very core of it. There were a zillion and one variations on that that [could] become really vivid and colorful in different ways. But that was always the core for me. And extending from that, this possibility of a kind of communication that would involve directly creating what people sense in common instead of relying as much on symbols such as words.
The Internet now already has a couple of billion nodes. Each node is a computer. Each one of these computers contains a couple of billion transistors, so it is in principle possible that the complexity of the Internet is such that it feels like something to be conscious. I mean, that’s what it would be if the Internet as a whole has consciousness. Depending on the exact state of the transistors in the Internet, it might feel sad one day and happy another day, or whatever the equivalent is in Internet space.
Describes the human brain as a recursive set of cybernetic control systems. The role of synapses are explained as well as the genetic guidance of the brain's development. Some of the founding fathers of Cybernetics set the stage for the fantastic discoveries of neuroscience in the past thirty years. Brains are universal machines.
Inside researcher Kenneth Hayworth of Harvard University is quoted in The Chronicle Review:
"The human race is on a beeline to mind uploading: We will preserve a brain, slice it up, simulate it on a computer, and hook it up to a robot body."
Chronicle continues, "He wants that brain to be his brain. He wants his 100 billion neurons and more than 100 trillion synapses to be encased in a block of transparent, amber-colored resin—before he dies of natural causes.
Why? Ken Hayworth believes that he can live forever.
But first he has to die."
Article by Evan R. Goldstein
Illustrations by Harry Campbell for The Chronicle Review
We're in the Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience, in Queen Square in London, the nerve centre – if you will – of British brain research. Prof Haggard is demonstrating "transcranial magnetic stimulation", a technique that uses magnetic coils to affect one's brain, and then to control the body. One of his research assistants, Christina Fuentes, is holding a loop-shaped paddle next to his head, moving it fractionally. "If we get it right, it might cause something." She presses a switch, and the coil activates with a click. Prof Haggard's hand twitches. "It's not me doing that," he assures me, "it's her."
"And just who are these people in the machine, anyway? The answer will depend on who you ask. If you ask the people in the machine, they will strenuously claim to be the original persons. For example, if we scan–let’s say myself–and record the exact state, level, and position of every neurotransmitter, synapse, neural connection, and every other relevant detail, and then reinstantiate this massive data base of information (which I estimate at thousands of trillions of bytes) into a neural computer of sufficient capacity, the person who then emerges in the machine will think that “he” is (and had been) me, or at least he will act that way. He will say “I grew up in Queens, New York, went to college at MIT, stayed in the Boston area, started and sold a few artificial intelligence companies, walked into a scanner there, and woke up in the machine here. Hey, this technology really works.”
Is this really me? For one thing, old biological Ray (that’s me) still exists. I’ll still be here in my carbon-cell-based brain. Alas, I will have to sit back and watch the new Ray succeed in endeavors that I could only dream of."
"I believe that consciousness is, essentially, the way information feels when being processed. Since matter can be arranged to process information in numerous ways of vastly varying complexity, this implies a rich variety of levels and types of consciousness. The particular type of consciousness that we subjectively know is then a phenomenon that arises in certain highly complex physical systems that input, process, store and output information. Clearly, if atoms can be assembled to make humans, the laws of physics also permit the construction of vastly more advanced forms of sentient life. Yet such advanced beings can probably only come about in a two-step process: first intelligent beings evolve through natural selection, then they choose to pass on the torch of life by building more advanced consciousness that can further improve itself."
"Would I still count as a human without the fleshy bits or as a electronic recreation of a biological process? And is that really any different than our physical consciousnesses being the result of electrical impulses bouncing around in our skulls?"
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