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Artificial Consciousness

by Antonio Chella and Riccardo Manzotti, Editors
Imprint Academic, Exeter, United Kingdom, 2007
284 pp., illus. 64 b/w, Trade, 17.95/$34.95
ISBN: 97818454000705.

Reviewed by John F. Barber
Digital Technology and Culture
Washington State University Vancouver


Since the mid-1980s, developing notions of artificial intelligence and artificial bodies, as well as progress in brain sciences have encouraged many engineers to refocus their attention from the study of intelligent behavior to the study of consciousness: how agents develop the capability of having experience, of being aware of what happens to them and around them.

The idea, then, of artificial consciousness might seem oxymoronic in that the artificial speaks to objects, while consciousness speaks to subjects. Historically, objects, as created artifacts, have been seen as incapable of having experiences, of being aware of what happens to them and around them. They have been considered unconscious. Subjects, on the other hand, are conscious since they can and do have experiences that lead them to experiences of themselves in a larger, surrounding context.

But, as pointed out in Artificial Consciousness, these distinctions are changing.

Artificial Consciousness collects extended and revised papers originally delivered at the International Workshop on Artificial Consciousness, held in Agrigento, Italy, November 2005. Edited by Antonio Chella and Riccardo Manzotti, this book provides an overview of current research by engineers with different views and methodologies directed at the same result: to understand and propose an architecture capable of producing a conscious machine.

The papers are organized into three parts. The first focuses on the race for artificial consciousness and papers collected here introduce readers to current thinking regarding artificial consciousness, especially the relation(s) to previous approaches like artificial intelligence, cognitive science, neuroscience, and philosophy of mind. Topics include the origins of artificial consciousness in the early years of cybernetics and artificial intelligence, the crucial features of human consciousness on which artificial consciousness should be based, the link between embodiment and consciousness, discussion of how phenomenological consciousness may be synthesized in a machine, and the notion of sense as a foundation for artificial consciousness.

The second part of the book focuses on a series of possible architectures for designing machine consciousness. Papers collected here discuss the aggregation of information through sensors and subsymbolic devices to facilitate interaction with the outside world, the use of social conscious processes in the regulation of motivated behaviors, the design and implementation of a loop between proprioceptive and perceptive sensory data for conscious perception in autonomous robots, the role of consciousness in controlling a complex system, and the role of the self process in embodied machine consciousness.

The book's final part deals with some of the fundamental issues associated with modeling artificial and natural consciousness. Papers collected here address the ontology of phenomenal experience in artifacts, the necessity of separately describing and explaining a variety of phenomena denoted as consciousness rather trying to understand it as a single concept, the dynamic nature of consciousness seen as a combination of synergetics and quantum field theory, the role of the interaction between brain, body, and environment in shaping consciousness, and the limits of mechanism and functionalism in catching the essential features of consciousness.

It is clear from this collection that the quest for artificial consciousness is only beginning, and that before an artificial conscious subject can ever be designed and built a long process of refinement and discovery of theoretical concepts will have to be undertaken, engineering will have to step beyond the design of complex artifacts to the design of subjects. Artificial Consciousness represents the first steps in designing models of consciousness, suggesting experiments for testing those models, and proposing new conceptual frameworks the fit the limitations of a conscious machine.



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