Machine Consciousness and Strong AI

Is machine consciousness a key aspect of strong artificial intelligence (strong AI)? Can machine consciousness be applied as a pragmatic approach in weak AI? Are machine consciousness and strong AI the same thing?

Machine consciousness is relatively immature as a modern scientific and engineering interdisciplinary paradigm [1]. Nevertheless, we could try to answer the former questions with a good degree of confidence.
In contrast to weak AI, strong AI claims that an appropriately programmed computer is a mind. Generally speaking, strong AI supposes that it is possible to build machines that can truly reason and feel. In this context, machine consciousness would refer to the feeling part of the hypothesized strong AI machine. From my point of view, most of the forms of reasoning are possible without any consciousness or feeling capability. Such a being would be a so-called (philosophical) zombie [2]. Therefore, we could argue that machine consciousness is key to “conscious” strong AI, but could be neglected in a relaxed form of “zombie” strong AI. This could be true if reason and consciousness are really independent, but what if reasoning and consciousness are intimately linked? Does more reasoning power involve more awareness? In my humble opinion, this question cannot be answered unless the real nature of consciousness is understood. Such an account should include the phenomenal aspects of consciousness (see definition of Qualia) [3].
Even though machine consciousness can be easily identified as a science fiction paradigm, I think it can have a key role in the realm of weak AI. Applying human consciousness models to machines and their programming is a form of bio-inspiration. We can study the human cognitive processes related to consciousness (like attention or propioception), and use the same principles in artificial machines. A much harder subject is the phenomenal dimension of consciousness, whose comprehensive underlying biological foundations are not known. This is one of the gaps to fill in the field of strong AI.



Ramón y Cajal Nobel Prize Centenary

Santiago Ramón y Cajal (May 1, 1852 – Octiber 17, 1934) was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1906 (jointly with Camillo Golgi). This Spanish scientist is considered one of the founders of neuroscience. Ramón y Cajal was very prolific in histologic studies of the central nervous system. His most salient work is included in [1] (Spanish) and [2] (English).

[1] Ramón y Cajal S. Estudios sobre la degeneración y regeneración de sistema nervioso. 2 vols. Madrid: N. Moya, 1913–14.

[2] S. Ramón y Cajal, Studies on the degeneration and regeneration of the nervous system, 2 vols, Oxford University Press, Oxford (1928).

The Brain’s Dark Energy

Human brain weight is about 2% of body weight. However, its energy consumption is 20%. Thanks to brain imaging techniques (like fMRI and PET) scientists can see the changing metabolism and brain blood streams, which mean energy consumption as explained by Marcus E. Raichle from Washington University [1]. According to Raichle, only between 0,5% and 1% of the energy is used to bear with external world. 60% to 80% of the energy is dedicated to maintain the connection between neurons. Therefore, the creation of new neuronal routes is the main energy consumption mechanism.

Other source of energy consumption could be the constant prediction processes present in the brain. Human brain is often defined as a prediction machine, as it collects information and experiences from the past and tries to prepare and anticipate the immediate future.

[1] The Brain’s Dark Energy. Marcus E. Raichle.  Science 24 November 2006: Vol. 314. no. 5803, pp. 1249 – 1250. DOI: 10.1126/science. 1134405

Phantom limbs and virtual reality

Scientists from Manchester University (Murray and his team [1][2]) have proven that patients suffering pain in their inexsistent phanton limbs can relieve pain by using visualisation. Using different techniques, from a simple mirror to advanced virtual reality systems where the patient is able to even control the virtual limb, researchers have proven that visualisation can help the brain to relieve the ‘phantom’ pain.

Somehow, the brain recalls sensory information coming from the amputated limb, and this causes conscious pain in the patient. These results suggest that self-consciousness mechanisms are affected by the amputation and the brain cannot automatically adapt its internal model.

[1] C. D. Murray, E. Patchick, S. Pettifer, T. Howard, J. Kalkarni, and C. Bamford. Investigating the efficacy of a virtual mirror box in treating phantom limb pain in a sample of chronic sufferers.International Journal of Disability and Human Development, page to appear, 2007.

[2] C. D. Murray, S. Pettifer, T. Howard, E. Patchick, J. Kalkarni, and C. Bamford. The treatment of phantom limb pain using immersive virtual reality: three case studies. Disability and Rehabilitation, page to appear, 2007.

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