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Are computers conscious?

  1. Oct 5, 2003 #1
    There really isn't much to put in the text of this post except to repeat the subect. Are computers coscious, or rather, could SOME computer PROGRAMS be conscious?
     
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  3. Oct 6, 2003 #2

    russ_watters

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    Not yet but soon.
     
  4. Oct 6, 2003 #3
    The answer is yes, but not in the way you are probably intending. Sikz, you and I are both potent examples of conscious computers. I am a conscious computer, and you are a conscious computer. So is every other person you've met.

    I grant you that we are made of different "stuff" then PCs, for example (neurons instead of silicon), however we are still computers and conscious ones at that.
     
  5. Oct 6, 2003 #4

    Les Sleeth

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    An example of being overly optimistic.
     
  6. Oct 6, 2003 #5

    Les Sleeth

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    I think it is so strange that someone would say we are computers with consciousness rather than consciousness with computing ability. I cannot fathom why anyone would rather prioritize computing ability over consciousness. Given the choice of which I would sacrifice if I had to, and I would choose consciousness without hesitation.
     
  7. Oct 6, 2003 #6

    selfAdjoint

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    Well we are meat computers that evolved consciousness, rather than the other way around.
     
  8. Oct 6, 2003 #7

    Les Sleeth

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    Don't you think you better define consciousness first? Otherwise, we'll be here all day arguing something no one even has a clear idea about.

    Personally, I believe an indispensible element of consciousness is that it is not just awareness, and certainly not mere computing ability, it is the awareness of being aware.

    A Geiger counter with a built-in diagnostic computer, for instance, might be said to be aware and capable of computing, but it doesn't know it is aware or computing; thus we have at least one MAJOR distinction of conscious over unconscious processes.
     
  9. Oct 6, 2003 #8

    Les Sleeth

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    Really? If we study the development of modern humans (homo sapiens sapiens), the progression has been characterized by increasing ability in our computing power. So if we were computers first, then how can that be?

    No, we were exceptionally self-aware beings first, and then we began developing computing skills.
     
  10. Oct 6, 2003 #9

    hypnagogue

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    "Computer" in this sense does not refer to our explicit abilities to do computations, but rather describes the functioning of the nervous system itself. The nervous system of any creature can be seen as a kind of computer-- it takes in inputs (sensory stimuli), and then responds (produces output) as a function of the inputs and its current state. Thus, if we presume that an ant is not conscious, we can say that both ants and humans are computers, but humans are conscious computers and ants are not.
     
  11. Oct 6, 2003 #10
    That's all operating on the assumption that ants and the like are NOT conscious.

    I believe what LW meant was that animals (not simply humans) ARE conscious, but are not computers (operating on emotion and instinct rather than logic and math). So according to this view humans were always conscious, but only recently (relatively recently, that is) developed into "computers".
     
  12. Oct 7, 2003 #11

    hypnagogue

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    No, you still have it backwards.

    It doesn't really matter if ants are or are not conscious, I was just stating that presumption to draw a contrast. If ants are conscious, then humans and ants can both be seen as conscious computers.

    On the liberal interpretation that a computer is something that takes in inputs and produces outputs as a function of those inputs and its current state, any physical system can be called a computer. This includes all life, and it also includes a forest, a lake, the solar system, etc. We know that at least some such computers (human beings) are conscious.

    Instinct and emotion arise as a function of the "math and logic" of physical reality. If you don't accept this, there are any number of chemicals you can ingest that you find will very readily change your mood. Thus, on some level, even emotions are governed by physical interactions in your body/brain. The process by which these emotions are produced as a function of sensory/chemical "inputs" and the individual's internal state can be seen as a kind of computation.
     
  13. Oct 7, 2003 #12
    Yes, the mind works very much like a computer. But what is it that makes us conscious? And, while I believe it's possible to endow a machine with qualities that reflect our own "conscious experience," I don't know if it's possible to endow it with a soul? Albeit those things which are "non-sentient" in nature are composed of spirit -- energy patterns or fields? -- as well as matter. So it's really hard to say? Our best attempts so far, have only been able to "mimic" the experience.
     
  14. Oct 26, 2003 #13
    My opinion is that the ability to choose, reason, speculate, etc. are all the characteristics that make something conscious. A computer can't do any of these things because it can only do what it is told to do. I can't have a conversation with my computer about what it thinks about baby universes. But, if I did a search on my computer with the keywords "baby, universes, black, holes," then I would come up with something like a Stephen Hawking article. The only reason it comes up with the article is because it was told to do so. A computer can't speculate or guess because neither of those things are purely based on known "facts" that someone told the computer is true.

    Get my point?
     
  15. Oct 26, 2003 #14

    Hurkyl

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    What if the computer is told to choose, reason, and speculate?


    By the way, when's the last time you did something that wasn't permitted by the way your body and mind are constructed?


    And it can't have a conversation with you about your thoughts on compressing a data stream.


    The only reason the cashier at McDonald's sold me that double quarter pounder combo was because I told him to do so.


    The big, giant counterexample to this claim is the field of data mining, but counterexamples happen everywhere.

    For example, I play a game called corewars, and I wrote a warrior. I instructed my computer to try and improve the warrior and it gave be back a significantly better warrior than I was able to produce by hand, and the warrior featured a qualitative feature that I would not have thought to implement.
     
  16. Oct 26, 2003 #15

    selfAdjoint

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    I'm sure I have posted this before. During the heavy telephone traffic of one Christmas in the late 60s or early 70s, the telephone system, a very large for the time switching circuit, was found to have found an alternate route from the east coast to the west coast, travelling through tiny litle phone systems in the mountain states. The engineers were awed; they would never have found that route, it was just too weird, but the system found it. And no one had programmed the system to do it either. They had just (in effect) given it the imperative: keep the flow of telephone connects going.
     
  17. Oct 31, 2003 #16
    the routing algorithms are probably the most advanced part of networking....:smile:
     
  18. Oct 31, 2003 #17
    Setting aside the fact that computers could be 'conscious' doesn't this topic vaguely introduce Neo-Confucianism?
     
  19. Nov 4, 2003 #18
    As always, Hurkyl, you make very good points in your post. However, this...

    ...I feel I should respond to. Aren't you also "told" (more specifically, programmed) to choose, reason, and speculate, by your genes and circumstance?
     
  20. Nov 12, 2003 #19
    It seems like a computer is necessary for consciousness to exist. How could you realize you exist if you had no senses or couldn't think?
     
  21. Nov 13, 2003 #20
    so consciousness didn't exist before Eniac, right?
    or at least before that guy 200 years ago who made the first computing machine....
     
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