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Artificial Consciousness

The invention of the steam engine revolutionised society, and indeed, we refer to the consequences as the Industrial Revolution. More recently, the invention of the computer has had much the same effect. Some call it a second industrial revolution, or the Information Revolution. Back in ancient times, the invention of the wheel was another major turning point for human society, coinciding roughly (and somewhat more tenuously) with the Agricultural Revolution.

We could ask whether there will be another revolution in society, made possible by the invention of a new class of machine; and if so, whether we can anticipate what form it will take. We could further ask whether we could even provoke the invention. Looking back at the inventions of the wheel, steam engine and computer, they seem to share many properties in common. Maybe we could use these to infer, inductively, what the next class of machine might be like.

Taleb gives good arguments why this should not be possible (New Scientist, 01-Jul-2006, p50), but let us run with the idea for a while, even so. Let us assume that, though the next machine-class is no more like a computer than a computer is like a heat-engine, at least the next MC is no less like a computer than a computer is like a heat-engine.

Judging by the exponential rate at which new technology is evolving, as indeed born out by the shortening intervals between the inventions of the wheel, steam-engine and computer, the next invention might not be far off. So, we might simply need to ask what potentially revolutionary machines are presently being contemplated, to give us clues as to which one will eventually lead us into the next industrial revolution.

There are many projects to choose from. But most of them, despite the revolutionary claims by their researchers, are really just cases of much more of the same. Of all the potential candidates, Artificial Consciousness, perhaps, stands out as being the most significant change that researchers are attempting to bring about in future machines. Man is capable of conscious thought, despite being built on biochemical machinery. So, if man is capable of conscious thought, so ought other machines, if constructed in the right way. This, then, is the second theme of this project: to explore the idea that it will take the invention of a new, revolutionary class of machines to implement artificial consciousness, to build our next tools for use in our constant battle against the second law of thermodynamics (TD2).

Book in preparation. Draft table of contents:

  1. What properties might the next machine-class have? (excerpts)
  2. What purpose might the next machine-class have? (excerpts)
  3. How might the next machine-class be built? (excerpts)
  4. How might the behaviour of next machine-class emerge? (excerpts)
  5. What might consciousness and free will have to do with the next machine-class? (excerpts)
  6. Building the next machine-class (excerpts)
  7. Taking stock (excerpts)


Work on these ideas was started while working at the Department of Computer Science of the University of Manchester, and was continued at the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering of the University of Brighton, and in spare time in my working life since. I wish to express my thanks for all the help and advice that I have received over these years, both in these institutions, and outside: to Chris Garrett, Peter Morley, Hugh Mayo, Ellis Sareen and John Simms, for their reviews of early drafts of this book: to Mark Rosenfelder, Deshinder S. Gill, Dave Lawrence, Richard Lock and David Black for their willingness to entertain many of my half-baked ideas; and to Claude Chevalier and Sergio Ilovaisky for their tremendous support.

Most of all, I must single out Adrian West for particular acknowledgement. It is he, above all others, who has contributed by reviewing drafts, listening to ideas, and commenting on them so constructively over all these years, right from the start of this project.

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