Christof Koch on ‘What is Consciousness?’

In Scientific American, Christof Koch (a giant in the field of consciousness studies) summarizes the latest status of neuronal correlates of consciousness (NCC) research, as well as the Integrated information theory (IIT), which has been the most significant theoretical development in consciousness studies in decades (“What Is Consciousness?”).

The IIT approach precludes AI from ever being conscious in the way that we, as humans, experience consciousness, which is in line with Nagel’s bat argument & Searle’s Chinese Room argument. The Hard Problem will never be transcended by AI:

IIT also predicts that a sophisticated simulation of a human brain running on a digital computer cannot be conscious—even if it can speak in a manner indistinguishable from a human being. Just as simulating the massive gravitational attraction of a black hole does not actually deform spacetime around the computer implementing the astrophysical code, programming for consciousness will never create a conscious computer. Consciousness cannot be computed: it must be built into the structure of the system.

Two challenges lie ahead. One is to use the increasingly refined tools at our disposal to observe and probe the vast coalitions of highly heterogeneous neurons making up the brain to further delineate the neuronal footprints of consciousness. This effort will take decades, given the byzantine complexity of the central nervous system. The other is to verify or falsify the two, currently dominant, theories. Or, perhaps, to construct a better theory out of fragments of these two that will satisfactorily explain the central puzzle of our existence: how a three-pound organ with the consistency of tofu exudes the feeling of life.

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