If a computer says, “I’m Aware,” how do you know if it is telling the truth?

If it weren’t for Frank Tippler or John Klotz this would be completely off topic.

imageDid Hawking read Tipler’s book? Meredith Bennett-Smith writes in the Huffington Post:

Could your brain keep on living even after your body dies? Sounds like science fiction, but celebrated theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking recently suggested that technology could make it possible.

"I think the brain is like a program in the mind, which is like a computer," Hawking said last week during an appearance at the Cambridge Film Festival, The Telegraph reported. "So it’s theoretically possible to copy the brain on to a computer and so provide a form of life after death."

He acknowledged that such a feat lies "beyond our present capabilities," adding that "the conventional afterlife is a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark."

Life after death ala Tipler? There is still more blind faith that a computer – hardware plus software – can not merely emulate consciousness but be conscious than there is any hard science on this subject. Hawking is really a Johnny-Come-Lately. I’m told the book to start with is Explaining Consciousness: The Hard Problem edited by Jonathan Shear. The list of contributors is why. From the publisher:

At the 1994 landmark conference "Toward a Scientific Basis for Consciousness", philosopher David Chalmers distinguished between the "easy" problems and the "hard" problem of consciousness research. According to Chalmers, the easy problems are to explain cognitive functions such as discrimination, integration, and the control of behavior; the hard problem is to explain why these functions should be associated with phenomenal experience. Why doesn’t all this cognitive processing go on "in the dark", without any consciousness at all? In this book, philosophers, physicists, psychologists, neurophysiologists, computer scientists, and others address this central topic in the growing discipline of consciousness studies. Some take issue with Chalmers’ distinction, arguing that the hard problem is a non-problem, or that the explanatory gap is too wide to be bridged. Others offer alternative suggestions as to how the problem might be solved, whether through cognitive science, fundamental physics, empirical phenomenology, or with theories that take consciousness as irreducible.Contributors : Bernard J. Baars, Douglas J. Bilodeau, David Chalmers, Patricia S. Churchland, Thomas Clark, C. J. S. Clarke, Francis Crick, Daniel C. Dennett, Stuart Hameroff, Valerie Hardcastle, David Hodgson, Piet Hut, Christof Koch, Benjamin Libet, E. J. Lowe, Bruce MacLennan, Colin McGinn, Eugene Mills, Kieron OHara, Roger Penrose, Mark C. Price, William S. Robinson, Gregg Rosenberg, Tom Scott, William Seager, Jonathan Shear, Roger N. Shepard, Henry Stapp, Francisco J. Varela, Max Velmans, Richard Warner

One thought on “If a computer says, “I’m Aware,” how do you know if it is telling the truth?”

  1. Computers only do what they are programmed to do. They cannot exceed their programming. People can be programmed and can exceed their programming. So the comparison is that while people can be programmed (brainwashing night be a more accurate description), then can and oftentimes do decide apart from that programming. Computers are of course not sentient beings, much less beings at all. People are.

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