Re: Dennett: Making a Conscious Robot

From: Boardman, Adam (
Date: Wed May 17 2000 - 22:34:13 BST

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> Egerland:
> Daniel Dennett: The Practical Requirements for Making a Conscious Robot
> In this paper the author, Daniel Dennett, deals with robots from three
> different points of view.
> First he arises the question if conscious robots are possible 'in
> principle', then he talks about a contemporary project to build
> a humanoid robot. In the last section he discusses three
> philosophical problems concerning artificial intelligence and
> consciousness of robots.

Dennett introduces the topic with the experimental subject, Cog, ...

> > whose cognitive talents will include speech, eye-coordinated
> > of objects, and a host of self- protective, self-regulatory and
> > activities.

Cog is not intended as a conscious robot, it will use what is known about
"neural" organisation of the human brain. It will interact with, learn from
and educate its designers.

> > Much of what we think will of course prove to be mistaken; that is one
> > advantage of real experiments over thought experiments.


In this section Dennet explores four reasons why people may consider
conscious robots impossible.

> > (1) Robots are purely material things, and consciousness requires
> > mind-stuff. (Old-fashioned dualism)

> Egerland:
> Dennett thinks that this is a very old-fashioned opinion and that there is
> reason why this should be true, especially if you look at this statement
> the historic point of view:

Historically things that we don't understand have been classed as
"supernatural", like magnetism, once mysterious and considered to have a
soul, yet now understood.

> > Why should the brain be the only complex physical object in the universe
> > to have an interface with another realm of being?

> > (2) Robots are inorganic (by definition), and consciousness can exist
> > in an organic brain.

> Egerland:
> Dennett disproves this 2nd statement by referring to the latest
development in
> science, which makes us able to understand and explain the functionality
> every cell of our body:

The suggestion is that the speed and compactness of organic processes are
not reproducible in any other physical media. Dennett has no problem with the
use of organic matter and suggests that an artificial neural network fabric
should be used even if the fabric happens to be organic.

> Egerland:
> Then Dennett comes to the third reason one could believe why artificial
> consciousness is impossible:

> > (3) Robots are artefacts, and consciousness abhors an artefact; only
> > something natural, born not manufactured, could exhibit genuine
> > consciousness.

Dennett calls this point of view origin chauvinism and proposes that wine
made with a label "Chateau Plonque" exactly the same as "Perfect imitation
Chateau Plonque". Which though not legally entitled to the same name, is just
as good a wine.

> > And to take a threadbare philosophical example, an atom-for-atom
> > of a human being, an artifactual counterfeit of you, let us say, might
> > legally be you, and hence might not be entitled to your belongings, or
> > deserve your punishments, but the suggestion that such a being would not
> > a feeling, conscious, alive person as genuine as any born of woman is
> > preposterous nonsense.

This poses an interesting idea, if in the future its possible to make a
clone of yourself, you could end up with people doing really evil and
horrendous crimes then cloning themselves, so one of goes to jail the other
goes scoot free? If in the cloning process you could reset the age of your
cells you could also live forever?

> Egerland:
> Here Dennett already assumes that there is nothing non material inside or
> outside the body which effects the consciousness of the being. In fact
> would be a proof if intelligence can be created artificially when this
> atom-by-atom duplicate behaved exactly like the original person.

It would also prove that their was something more if an atom by atom clone
ended up like the guy down morgue? Who's to say that even an instantaneous
copy would have the correct electric impulses flowing round the brain to
live or not suffer brain damage.

It is also interesting to note that we don't currently have the ability to
identify all the atoms in a human body without destroying them in the
process. But I digress and we now move onto growing up.

> Egerland:
> Dennett suggests that after all it is at least for practical reasons that
> should not try to create a 'completely' conscious robot with a level of
> intelligence comparable to the average human intelligence, but some sort
> 'infant' which is supposed to grow up into consciousness:

This idea of growing up into consciousness is one that doesn't seem to fit,
we humans don't consider our children to be unconscious (unless they are
asleep!) when they are babies. Most people probably consider their child to
become conscious when it leaves the womb though the pro-life lobby group
might draw the line some point earlier, presumably after conception.

We could consider that Cog is to be in the womb growing but then why expect
it to do any interacting, baby's in the womb have no one to talk to (well
maybe twins do).

Dennett goes on to compare with the usage of computers in film making.
Currently though physically possible it is not practical to generate an entire
film such as Schindler's List in a computer.

> > Perhaps no cartoon could be a great film, but they are certainly real
> > some are indeed good films; if the best roboticists can hope for is the
> > of some crude, cheesy, second-rate, artificial consciousness, they still

Dennet then goes on to explain about Cog the project to create a interestingly
complex robot that can interact with humans. It is fixed to a table top, has
arms, simple hands, a torso, head, eyes and ears etc.

> Egerland:
> In my opinion a system which is so complex that it can not be explained
even by
> its creators is in danger of being out of control after some time. But
maybe I
> just watched too many sci-fi movies...

But considering that this particular robot is rooted to the spot its not going
to be able to do any out of control type activities. The addition of 'Stop'
buttons and caring 'parents' should give it no reason to do any 'bad' things,
assuming it can understand its surroundings.

Boardman, Adam.

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