"The Computerized Mr. Jones"

BTG Issue: 
October 1980 | Vol. 15 No. 10
"Can a machine be conscious? A mathematician analyzes what is meant by 'artificial intelligence.'"

"Science fiction writers often try to solve the problems of old age and death by taking advantage of the idea that a human being is essentially a complex machine. In a typical scene, doctors and technicians scan the head of the dying Samuel Jones with a 'cerebroscope,' a highly sensitive instrument that records in full detail the synaptic connections of the neurons in his brain. ... When the program is run on a suitable computer, the actual personality of Mr. Jones seems to come to life through the medium of the machine. 'I've escaped death!' the computer exults through its electronic phoneme machine. ... Although this story may seem fantastic, some of the most influential thinkers in the world of modern science take very seriously the principles behind it. ... In this article we shall examine the question of whether it is possible for a machine to possess a conscious self that perceives itself as seer and doer. Our thesis will be that while computers may in principle generate complex sequences of behavior comparable to those produced by human beings, computers cannot possess conscious awareness without the intervention of principles of nature higher than those known to modern science. Ironically, we can base strong arguments in support of this thesis on some of the very concepts that form the foundation of artificial intelligence research."

Please click article images to the left to expand.