The (lack of) mental life of some machines

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The proponents of machine consciousness predicate the mental life of a machine, if any, exclusively on its formal, organizational structure, rather than on its physical composition. Given that matter is organized on a range of levels in time and space, this generic stance must be further constrained by a principled choice of levels on which the posited structure is supposed to reside. Indeed, not only must the formal structure fit well the physical system that realizes it, but it must do so in a manner that is determined by the system itself, simply because the mental life of a machine cannot be up to an external observer. To illustrate just how tall this order is, we carefully analyze the scenario in which a digital computer simulates a network of neurons. We show that the formal correspondence between the two systems thereby established is at best partial, and, furthermore, that it is fundamentally incapable of realizing both some of the essential properties of actual neuronal systems and some of the fundamental properties of experience. Our analysis suggests that, if machine consciousness is at all possible, conscious experience can only be instantiated in a class of machines that are entirely different from digital computers, namely, timecontinuous, open analog dynamical systems.


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