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A Theoretical Computer Science Perspective on Consciousness

by   Manuel Blum, et al.

The quest to understand consciousness, once the purview of philosophers and theologians, is now actively pursued by scientists of many stripes. This paper studies consciousness from the perspective of theoretical computer science. It formalizes the Global Workspace Theory (GWT) originated by cognitive neuroscientist Bernard Baars and further developed by him, Stanislas Dehaene, and others. Our major contribution lies in the precise formal definition of a Conscious Turing Machine (CTM), also called a Conscious AI. We define the CTM in the spirit of Alan Turing's simple yet powerful definition of a computer, the Turing Machine (TM). We are not looking for a complex model of the brain nor of cognition but for a simple model of (the admittedly complex concept of) consciousness. After formally defining CTM, we give a formal definition of consciousness in CTM. We then suggest why the CTM has the feeling of consciousness. The reasonableness of the definitions and explanations can be judged by how well they agree with commonly accepted intuitive concepts of human consciousness, the breadth of related concepts that the model explains easily and naturally, and the extent of its agreement with scientific evidence.


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