Artificial consciousness: from impossibility to multiplicity

In Vincent C. Müller (ed.), Philosophy and Theory of Artificial Intelligence 2017. Berlin: Springer. pp. 3-18 (2017)
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How has multiplicity superseded impossibility in philosophical challenges to artificial consciousness? I assess a trajectory in recent debates on artificial consciousness, in which metaphysical and explanatory challenges to the possibility of building conscious machines lead to epistemological concerns about the multiplicity underlying ‘what it is like’ to be a conscious creature or be in a conscious state. First, I analyse earlier challenges which claim that phenomenal consciousness cannot arise, or cannot be built, in machines. These are based on Block’s Chinese Nation and Chalmers’ Hard Problem. To defuse such challenges, theorists of artificial consciousness can appeal to empirical methods and models of explanation. Second, I explain why this naturalistic approach produces an epistemological puzzle on the role of biological properties in phenomenal consciousness. Neither behavioural tests nor theoretical inferences seem to settle whether our machines are conscious. Third, I evaluate whether the new challenge can be managed through a more fine-grained taxonomy of conscious states. This strategy is supported by the development of similar taxonomies for biological species and animal consciousness. Although it makes sense of some current models of artificial consciousness, it raises questions about their subjective and moral significance.

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Chuanfei Chin
Singapore University of Social Sciences


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