Consciousness and Artificial Intelligence

I was asked to study Searle and Lycan for one of my philosophy classes and analyze their different perspectives. The two philosophers are interested in whether or not an artificial intelligence is genuinely capable of being conscious. For many, a fully conscious robot (in the human sense) sounds absurd, but arguing either angle is complex.

Defining and justifying consciousness is a difficult task since it is a private condition. Searle uses the “Chinese room argument” to demonstrate that artificial intelligence is incapable of genuine consciousness. In the analogy, a non-Chinese speaking person is locked in a room with an instruction manual for decoding Chinese letters. People from outside the room pass Chinese letters to the person inside, and the person inside “communicates” with them. The people outside may conclude the person inside speaks Chinese, but they would be wrong; the person inside only appears to understand Chinese. Searle equates this deception to the capabilities of artificial intelligence and maintains genuine consciousness is a biological characteristic. I do not think his argument is very compelling since it is possible to doubt the consciousness of other humans as well. His demonstration says nothing about the limits of artificial intelligence, but merely elaborates on the subjectivity of consciousness.

Searle is a naturalist and expects the exact source of consciousness (which he assumes is the brain) be duplicated in order for it to genuinely exist, but Lycan is a functionalist, and therefore can equate artificial minds (or consciousnesses) with human minds if the functions are the same. In other words, Lycan maintains minds are the connecting relationship between external influences on behavior, so if some sort of super computer can react appropriately to its environment, it can be said to have a mind. I agree with Searle insofar as I think consciousness is subjective, but it seems possible to recreate a form of consciousness outside of a brain, and thus my ideas are most comparable to Lycan’s. My will is never entirely free, and it seems I merely react to my senses, which is an ability we may be able to reproduce in a computer. However, this idea is self-confirming, and further supports that consciousness is an entirely personal experience for people, animals, and hypothetical super computers alike.

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