IAS 13




Robot consciousness: theoretical and empirical issues


Antonio Chella, Riccardo Manzotti


Objective. Robot consciousness is an emerging field that addresses the problems of designing and implementing computational models of consciousness in a robot.  The target of robot consciousness research is twofold: the possibility of building conscious robots (i.e., facing the hard problem of qualia) and the analysis of the active role of consciousness in controlling and planning the behavior of a robot. Robot consciousness is placed at the crossing between technical disciplines (AI, robotics, computer science and engineering), theoretical disciplines (philosophy of mind, linguistics, logic), and empirical disciplines (psychology and neuroscience). It focuses on attempts to apply the methods of AI, robotics and computer science to understand consciousness and to examine the possible role of consciousness in Robotics. On the one hand there is the hope that facing the problem of consciousness would be a decisive move to design really autonomous robots, on the other hand the implementations of robotic models of consciousness could be helpful for understanding natural consciousness. 


Outline.The tutorial will present the current state of research in robot consciousness and it will discuss the theoretical foundations and the experimental results of the field and their importance for the IAS community.

The tutorial will be divided in four parts:

  • theoretical issues of consciousness

  • models of robot consciousness

  • case studies and implemented robots

  • discussions and perspectives of robot consciousness.

Background. In the last few years, the once “incongruous” idea of machine consciousness gained increasing momentum . This upsurge of interest in a such a technological possibility  has been encouraged by the parallel increase in consciousness-related research in the field of neuroscience. Are these studies of any relevance in the field of robotics, artificial intelligence, and computer vision? Artificial consciousness, sometimes labeled as machine consciousness, is the attempt to model and implement those aspects of human cognition that are identified with the often elusive and controversial phenomenon of consciousness. In brief, the tutorial will outline the complete theoretical framework in which current consciousness related scientific research is carried on. The tutorial will also list the most promising models (Global Work Space, Tononi’s information integration, Embodied Cognition, Externalist approaches to conscious experience, Seth’s model) contrasting advantages and shortcomings. .  


Questions to be discussed include: What advantage does consciousness provide to biological agents? Why does the brain produce a conscious representation of cognitive processing? What are the physical underpinnings of phenomenal experience? Couldn’t be the case that conscious experience is the hallmark of a certain style of information processing? Will conscious machines be able to outperform as to autonomy, semantic understanding, dealing with unexpected events, showing personal identity, achieving satisfactory human-machine communication?

No specific prior knowledge is required.

International Journal of Machine Consciousness: Vol. 05, No. 02

A dedicated journal on the topic: IJMC

A cartoon on the topic!


Riccardo Manzotti 

Riccardo Manzotti. Riccardo Manzotti (PhD in Robotics, Professor of Psychology at IULM University, Milan) and currently Fulbright Visiting Scholar at MIT, has been working for the best part of the last ten years on the topic of machine consciousness. He is coeditor of the “International Journal on Machine Consciousness”, He has written several papers on artificial consciousness as well as on consciousness and has co-organized or be an active presenter in several international workshop on machine consciousness and related topics (International Workshop on Artificial Consciousness 2005, Nokia Workshop on Machine Consciousness 2008, BICS 2010. Brain-Inspired Cognitive Systems Conference, BICA. Biologically Inspired Cognitive Architectures 2009, Machine Consciousness 2011: Self, Integration and Explanation, BICA 2012).

Manzotti's website: http://www.consciousness.it

Antonio Chella

Antonio Chella from 2001 has been a full professor in Robotics at the University of Palermo. He is the head of the Robotics Laboratory of DICGIM-University of Palermo and a former Director of the Department of Computer Engineering at the University of Palermo. He published more than 200 papers on machine consciousness, cognitive systems, robotics and neural networks. He is a referee of international scientific journals and he has been a member of the program committee of several international conferences. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Machine Consciousness and an associate editor of Biologically Inspired Cognitive Architectures (BICA) journal. He is a co-founder and current member of the board of the BICA Society. He edited, together with Riccardo Manzotti, the book "Artificial Consciousness", by Imprint Academic, UK, which is a main reference in the field. Detailed information on the scientific activity, including links to publications, can be found at Antonio Chella’s website: http://www.antoniochella.it/Antonio/Home.html