Can Robots Become Conscious?

November 11, 2003 | Source: New York Times

What is consciousness? Can you put it in a machine? And if you did, how could you ever know for sure?

With the continuing gains in computing power, many believe that artificial intelligence will be attainable within a few decades.

Dr. Hans Moravec, a professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, believes a human being is nothing more than a fancy machine, and that as technology advances, it will be possible to build a machine with the same features, that there is nothing magical about the brain and biological flesh.

Dr. Roger Penrose, a mathematician at Oxford University in England, uses the incompleteness theorem in mathematics (any system of theorems will invariably include statements that cannot be proven) to argue that any machine that uses computation — and hence all robots — will invariably fall short of the accomplishments of human mathematicians.

Instead, he argues that consciousness is an effect of quantum mechanics in tiny structures in the brain that exceeds the abilities of any computer.