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How can you know that any animal, other human beings, or anything that seems conscious, isn't just faking it? Does it enjoy an internal subjective experience, complete with sensations and emotions like hunger, joy, or sadness? After all, the only consciousness you can know with certainty is your own. Everything else is inference. The nature of consciousness makes it by necessity a wholly private affair.
These questions are more than philosophical. As intelligent digital assistants, self-driving cars and other robots start to proliferate, are these AIs actually conscious or just seem like it? Or what about patients in comas — how can doctors know with any certainty what kind of consciousness is or is not present, and prescribe treatment accordingly?
Work - Psychologist - Jonathan - Schooler - University
In my work, often with with psychologist Jonathan Schooler at the University of California, Santa Barbara, we're developing a framework for thinking about the many different ways to possibly test for the presence of consciousness.
There is a small but growing field looking at how to assess the presence and even quantity of consciousness in various entities. I've divided possible tests into three broad categories that I call the measurable correlates of consciousness.
Brain - Activity - Time - States - Actions
You can look for brain activity that occurs at the same time as reported subjective states. Or you can look for physical actions that seem to be accompanied by subjective states. Finally, you can look for the products of consciousness, like artwork or music, or this article I've written, that can be separated from the entity that created them to infer the presence — or not — of consciousness.
Over the last two decades, scientists have proposed various ways to probe cognition and consciousness in unresponsive patients. In such cases, there aren't any behaviors to observe or any creative products to assess.
Correlates - Consciousness
You can check for the neural correlates of consciousness, though. What's...
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