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Virtual Machines and Consciousness

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Replication or even modelling of consciousness in machines requires some clarifications and refinements of our concept of consciousness. Design of, construction of, and interaction with artificial systems can itself assist in this conceptual development. We start with the tentative hypothesis that although the word 'consciousness' has no well-defined meaning, it is used to refer to aspects of human and animal information processing. We then argue that we can enhance our understanding of what these aspects might be by designing and building virtual- machine architectures capturing various features of consciousness. This activity may in turn nurture the development of our concepts of consciousness, showing how an analysis based on information processing virtual machines answers old philosophical puzzles as well enriching empirical theories. This process of developing and testing ideas by developing and testing designs leads to gradual refinement of many of our pre-theoretical concepts of mind, showing how they can be construed as implicitly 'architecture-based' concepts. Understanding how human-like robots with appropriate architectures are likely to feel puzzled about qualia may help us resolve those puzzles. The concept of 'qualia' turns out to be an 'architecture-based' concept, while individual qualia concepts are 'architecture-driven'.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2003

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