ANIL MITRA © August 2014—AUGUST 2014—May 2015

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Are robots conscious?




We were sitting on the front porch when I asked my friend ‘Are cockroaches conscious?’ His answer was that they are not. His justification was that simple automatons have been built that exhibit complex behavior and therefore complexity of insect responses does not imply that insects are conscious.

Now it does not follow that just because (even if) all complex robotic behavior is not conscious, that insects are not conscious for insects are not robots. So this leaves us with two concerns and not just one: (1) Are robots conscious? (2) Are insects conscious? And, more generally, what are marks of consciousness and where—if at all—are the cutoffs between conscious and non-conscious forms?

I might turn in this into a general reflection on consciousness. For now though I jot down a few thoughts.

Are robots conscious?

I wish to question the following thoughts that may underlie hasty thinking about consciousness and who or what is conscious.

That apparent complexity is ‘real’ complexity.

That complexity is a good or universal indicator of consciousness.

That apparent consciousness is the form of all consciousness—that our experience of consciousness is the form of all consciousness including that which may be labeled proto-consciousness.

That consciousness arises only in organization and not in matter as such (this point and the previous one make better sense when considered together).

That robots are not conscious. That the consciousness in a simulation is identical to the consciousness in what is simulated.

That we can adequately talk of such matters absent full metaphysics.

But that if we do in our normal world we must use ‘substance’ or some appropriate ground.