Aftermath

 

Dear Partecipants,

the fall symposium on Consciousness has brilliantly concluded on Sunday 11/11/2007.

A very nice summary of the overall meeting is Igor aleksander's final plenary session.

You can get some more material here:

It had been a great opportunity. I would like to share a few considerations with all of you and with those that were unable to partecipate.

The symposium had a few great merits and also some cons.

Among the main positive aspects of the symposium we could mention:

  1. it was the first time that scholars addressed the issue of consciousness in a traditional AI environment;

  2. the symposium was well balanced between USA and European scholars;

  3. the two target lectures were very good (Tononi presented a controversial but insightful and inspiring theory of integrated information as the foundation of conscious experience whilst Sloman summarized many crucial issues in the understanding of consciousness inspired AI research);

  4. the partecipants' talks centered on the topic of the symposium and discussed lively their research, talks were balanced between implentation-related aspects and theoretical issues; the adopted scheduling let everybody present their own idea in a clear and pleasant way;

On the cons we could list

  1. the field of artificial consciousness seems to be still far from a generalized consensus;

  2. it is rather unclear how to measure the advancements of various approaches;

  3. it is often vague whether the work done really addresses the issue of consciousness or is just traditional AI.

Having said that, on a more positive note, there was an almost generally accepted consensus on the following issues:

  1. Consciousness can be a source of inspiration for building better (more adaptive, more robust, more autonomous, more resilient) machines;

  2. Building machines inspired to consciousness could be a testbed for psychological, philosophical and neuroscientific theories of consciousness;

  3. It is possible to address consciousness not only from neuroscience, psychology and philosophy, but also from engineering and AI;

  4. the role of embodiment and situatedness if almost unversally recognized.

One of the most crucial and controversial aspects was, not surpringly, the dicothomy between phenomenal and functional aspects. Stevan Harnad has to be mentioned since he painstakingly remembered the absence of any causal account of phenomenal aspects of consciousness and thus of the lack of any acceptable approach to feelings as such.

 

In conclusion, consciousness (or the C-word as some ironical say) is still a word that need to be handled with care. Most people in the symposium will accept the division between strong artificial consciousness (trying to build machine that are conscious) and weak artificial conscious (trying to build machines that behave as if they were conscious or building machines that clarify our understanding of consciousness). 

 

A special thank to Igor Aleksander and, of course, all the partecipants to the symposium!

 

Any comments are welcomed!

 

Antonio Chella, University of Palermo (chella@unipa.it);

Riccardo Manzotti,  IULM University, Milan (riccardo.manzotti@iulm.it).