Artificial Sentience

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The use of computers has pervaded the life of every human being. At every street corner there are machines to be found that have been designed to simplify our lives and take over the mundane jobs that no longer require human intervention. One only needs to think of automated teller machines replacing bank tellers, vending machines phasing out street vendors, or near-infallible CCTV watching over us as policemen and sheriffs once did, to realise the extent that technology has enhanced and improved our existence. Given the speed and effectiveness with which computer technology has become a regular part of our lives, it is not surprising that there is much speculation about the future implications of these developments. One possibility that has stirred controversy is the suggestion that with the rate at which computers are becoming ’smarter’ and better adapted, they may one day attain consciousness. This concept has gained notoriety in popular culture, with films such as The Matrix, Ghost in the Shell, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and even the children’s show My Life as a Teenage Robot dealing with different applications of this concept. There is some scientific support for the idea that computers may one day become powerful enough to simulate consciousness. For one, computing power has increased exponentially over the past decades. Secondly, a Turing machine - a theoretical model of a computer, devised by Alan Turing, which would be able to compute mathematical functions without any of the limitations that apply to physical machines - would theoretically also be able to compute consciousness. This, of course, relies on the assumption that consciousness can be somehow derived from mathematical functions - a contro... ... middle of paper ... ...ious computers inches closer and closer to reality, a number of people have started to specialise in and research subjects pertaining to this development. Among the most notable of them is Ray Kurzweil, an inventor and futurist who has, among other things, correctly predicted the explosive growth of the Internet. He predicts that by 2029 the first computer will pass the Turing test [Turing, 1950], meaning that it will be able to answer written questions in a manner indistinguishable from a human [Kurzweil, 2005]. Works Cited [Egan, 1994] Egan, G. (1994). Permutation City. London: Clays Ltd. [Searle, 1980] Searle, J. R. (1980). Minds, brains, and programs. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 3:417– 457. [Searle, 1998] Searle, J. R. (1998). How to study consciousness scientifically. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 353:1935–1942.
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