Consciousness: I know it when I see it?

I love life’s intersections. I’m currently taking an Educational Psychology class (how much do I love that VT faculty can take courses for free?!) and we were discussing consciousness. The idea of functionalism arose and it made me think of our seminar and the idea of artificial intelligence. Basically, functionalism is the idea that as long as something functions like consciousness, it is consciousness. While part of me cringes at the thought that we could call machine processing consciousness, I’m also at a loss at how we could recognize or define it without this sort of pragmatism. It’s almost as if we were to try to establish a definition, I think we’d purposefully adopt a definition which a priori excludes this sort of machine “thinking”. Is this sort of Turing test good enough? Is our mind more than a collections of our neural networks? If there is some sort of collective emergent property, is this fundamentally different from the emergent properties of an ant colony? What about a series of data and processing which lead to artificial intelligence? I’m now wishing I spent some time this weekend reading the Alan Turning essay in our text, but alas, as it stands, I still need to find some time today to finish the assigned reading! Maybe over break..

All of this reminded me of a Radiolab that I heard years ago (is anyone else obsessed with Radiolab?). (The picture should be linked to the episode)

This hour of Radiolab, Jad and Robert meet humans and robots who are trying to connect, and blur the line.
We begin with a love story–from a man who unwittingly fell in love with a chatbot on an online dating site. Then, we encounter a robot therapist whose inventor became so unnerved by its success that he pulled the plug. And we talk to the man who coded Cleverbot, a software program that learns from every new line of conversation it receives…and that’s chatting with more than 3 million humans each month. Then, five intrepid kids help us test a hypothesis about a toy designed to push our buttons, and play on our human empathy. And we meet a robot built to be so sentient that its creators hope it will one day have a consciousness, and a life, all its own.

Stolen from Radiolab.

Stolen from Radiolab.

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