Thursday, April 21, 2005

 

Next generation machine consciousness?

One of the symposia that caught my eye at AISB 05 last week was Next Generation approaches to Machine Consciousness: Imagination, Development, Intersubjectivity, and Embodiment. I met a number of the participants of that symposium riding the bus to the train station the first evening, and we had a lively conversation about the prospects for machine consciousness, incIuding a discussion of Dennett, Searle, emergence, the Chinese Room, and so forth, and I wanted to attend their sessions, but was committed to the Conversational Informatics group.

Nonetheless, I've been going through the proceedings, and even a glance at the titles suggests some interesting fare (see here). I've wondered for some time what are the minimal conditions for a computational consciousness and whether the IlliGAL little models analysis and design methodology (see here) might be used to create one. The thought is that consciousness is an emergent property if there ever was one, but an emergent property of a system can be designed when (a) the system is properly decomposed and (b) the elements are of the decomposition are minimally modeled and tuned to yield the desired effect. For example, effective recombinative innovation is an emergent property that was thought to beyond computation (see the Design of Innovation). Why can't we use a similar methodology and create a machine consciousness?

Comments:
Certainly I agree that also consciousness is an emergent property composed
out of many modules, many (local) interactions through connections that
are biased in one way or the other.
What might be the most important ingredients of consciousness?

Terrence Deacon's
book
The Symbolic Specifies: The co-evolution of language and the brain

gives some very interesting insights of how consciousness might have
evolved - although he actually restricts himself to the co-evolution of
symbolic representations and language structures. Herein lies the key to
consciousness it seems in that only, abstract, very associative, symbolic
structures enable us to step above the directly connected perceptual and
motoric capabilities and thus get a high-level view of our environments
and, even more important for consciousness, ourselves in this environment.

The European project
MindRACES: From Reactive to Anticipatory Cognitive Embodied Systems
tries to investigate the importance of anticipations and anticipatory
behavior in this respect. The capability of predicting the future and
using this capability to improve not only immediate behavior but also
sensory processing and future behavior seems to be yet another ingredient
of consciousness. One objective now is, of course, to combine the
capability of developing symbolic representations with such anticipatory
representations. People that have further interests in such thoughts may also be interested in the upcoming
AAAI fall symposia

and especially in the symposium
on anticipatory cognitive embodied systems, which will present new
insights and most current research on the topic.

To sum up, it seems to me that in order to proceed towards machine
consciousness it is necessary to have at least (1) a body that can
manipulate a world and (2) sensors that can perceive (a) the own body (to
be able to become self-aware), (b) own manipulations in the world (to
connect to a world in which consciousness resides) as well as (c)
manipulations by others (to realize that there are others). Next, multiple
modules that form increasingly abstract representations of such
interactions detecting interdependencies abstracted and modularized in
time and space are necessary to provide a representation that can be
worked upon by consciousness (to be able to reason about the world and the
own role in this world). Language and the tendency to develop a grammar
structure might help to shape the representation (leading to further
abstractions and yet more general interdependencies in the world such as
general cause and effect, somewhat like subject and verb). Finally, it
might be the story telling capability, that is, the continuous
anticipation working and predicting and guiding future behavior based on
these abstract (sub-)structures in time and space that might lead to
conscious experiences.
 
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