Why is consciousness important?

What does it feel like to be a new born baby? How does an animal experience color? We may have discovered the deepest secrets of the brain, but we will never squeeze out consciousness from it.

In a previous article, [see What is Consciousness] we read about the nature of consciousness and how it creates a reality that is much greater than what can be created by the different individual parts of the brain. In this 10 minute interview with Guilio Tononi, he gives a clearer explanation of what consciousness is.

For Tononi, consciousness is everything that we experience – our thoughts , feelings, wishes, even sound, and light. When we cease to experience the world, then there is no consciousness. To stress the importance of consciousness, Tononi says:

[That] I am having an experience right now is the only thing I am sure of, everything else is an inference.

What does it feel like to be a new born baby? How does an animal experience color? Tononi believes that even though we can discover all the functions of the different parts of the brain, we will not be able to solve the hard problem of consciousness.

It is here that Tononi proposes a new way of studying consciousness. Instead of finding the material basis for it, we must look first at the essential properties of this capacity (consciousness), and then ask how physical properties are organized so that such capacity may arise. This way, one not only sees the bits and pieces that make up the capacity, but also the awe-inspiring pattern that exists.

Implications for AI

All of AI research is geared towards the creation of human-level intelligence. But there are other efforts which move towards the creation of machines that can have a conscious experience. Why?

For one, consciousness is associated with contextual learning. True, algorithms such as Alpha Go Zero may have taught itself to learn Go by playing the game over and over, but have it play monopoly, and it will fail miserably. Alpha Go remains a narrow AI because it needs a programmer to code new capacities so that it may learn to play a new game. For sure, programmers will need to overhaul the entire algorithm if they wanted Alpha Go to be able to learn any other task thrown in its way.

This is what makes us, human beings, different from machines. Though we process information in a slow, sequential manner, we are able to utilize the skills we have learned from previous tasks to understand and perform new tasks. We are able to analyze consequences and decide based on our context, which one is most beneficial.

Will AI engineers be able to develop consciousness if they move away from materialistic science? Perhaps, but then again, there are other factors that need to be considered [see article on Biocentrism for context]. But then again, AI engineers may realize, once they begin considering the results of the new sciences that they may be no need for conscious machines after all, because the human being possesses the “super powers ” promised by AI – super intelligence [Gregg Braden: There Is Power In Thinking With Your Heart], super health [Joe Dispenza: You Can Cure Yourself Through Your Thoughts], and immortality [Quantum Physics And The Immortality Of The Human Spirit] .

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