The Forbidden Sentient Computer: Recent Progress in the Electronic Monitoring of Consciousness


Patients have been known to regain consciousness during surgery while still paralyzed by the anesthesia and unable to communicate their distress. Recently, electronic engineers have helped resolve this problem by improving the real-time monitoring of depth of anesthesia. Electronic measurements of the brain’s activity are used for many clinical and research purposes. This is possible because the brain uses electrochemical phenomena in order to process data. Many researchers have taken this to mean that advances in computer science will eventually result in sentient computers. Some conflate artificial consciousness with artificial intelligence even though consciousness and intelligence are not positively correlated. Those not trained in neurology, or at least medicine, understandably fail to comprehend what the rich, complex word “consciousness” actually means as a term of art. Human consciousness can only be evaluated with surrogate markers and is a broad and complex spectrum that ranges from minimally conscious to waking consciousness (what the reader is experiencing right now). The necessary conditions for waking consciousness include a brain in just the right electrical, chemical, and thermal states with sufficient blood pressure. These conditions, in turn, require the brain to have a body that is maintained in the right environment. Hence, waking consciousness is a proper subset of spectrum consciousness and cannot be considered an independent phenomenon capable of being disembodied or sliced off of the spectrum. The Theory of Mind (TOM) from developmental psychology infers that a brain similar to that of humans is a sufficient condition for spectrum consciousness. But this theory is precluded for computers because a child would not recognize a computer as being a living organism that is just like the child. Although TOM could be applied to an ideal android, there is a classic mathematical theorem from systems science that makes such an android seem infeasible.

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