If AI-Machines Reach Consciousness: Do We Face a New Reality?

Posted by Peter Rudin on 24. March 2023 in Essay

Crawling under the Edge of the Sky    Public Domain


For a long time, scientists and philosophers have argued that AI-Machines will eventually reach consciousness. With the right programming, computers could be functionally capable of independent thought and experience. They need to process enough information or have the right kind of self-representational model to experience the world individually, thereby generating output that supports humans in their decision-making and cognitive activity.

What is Consciousness?

The modern English term ‘consciousness’ is derived from the Latin word conscius: ‘knowing and being aware.’ Consciousness is the result of perception and understanding with an infinite potential to support individual development. It includes awareness of one’s environment and an individual’s unique thoughts, memories, feelings and sensations. One of the problems with the study of consciousness is the lack of a universally accepted definition. Descartes proposed the idea of cogito ergo sum (‘I think, therefore I am’), which suggested that the very act of thinking demonstrates the reality of one’s existence and consciousness. Today, consciousness is typically defined as awareness of oneself and the world. However, there are still debates about the different aspects of this awareness. Neuroscientists, for example, use brain-scanning technology to seek out specific neurons that might be linked to different conscious events. Based on this research two theories addressing issues of consciousness have evolved:

Integrated Information Theory

This approach looks at consciousness by learning more about the physical processes that underlie our conscious experiences. The theory attempts to create a measure of the integrated information that forms consciousness. Hence, the quality of an organism’s consciousness is represented by its integration of information. This theory tends to focus on whether an experience is conscious and to what degree it represents consciousness.

Global Workspace Theory

This theory suggests that we have a memory from which the brain draws information creating the experience of conscious awareness. While the integrated information theory focuses more on identifying whether an organism is conscious, the global workspace theory offers a much broader approach to understanding how consciousness works.

In contrast to this neuroscientific framework, in 1974 the American philosopher Thomas Nagel posed the question ‘What is it like to be a bat?’ His publication became the basis of a seminal thesis on consciousness that argued why the subjective character of conscious experiences cannot be described by the neural processes of brain activity.

Will Machines Ever Be Conscious? 

In an article published by Facebook (Now Meta) in late December 2019, Christof Koch, a well-known researcher at the Allen Institute of Brain Science states that artificial intelligence may equal human intelligence without matching the true nature of our experiences. Although experts disagree over what exactly constitutes intelligence, most accept that – sooner or later –  computers will achieve what is termed Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). However, can programmable computers ever be conscious? From a neuroscientific point-of-view, there is little doubt that our intelligence and our experiences are inevitable consequences of the causal powers of our brain. But what can we expect from the  evolution of artificial intelligence towards artificial consciousness? When someone is presented with an image, a wave of neural excitation is triggered that spreads throughout the neuronal workspace of our brain. That wave becomes available to a host of subsidiary processes such as language, planning, reward circuits, access to long-term memory as well as storage of short-term memory. According to Christoph Koch, the act of broadcasting this information throughout our brain defines consciousness. The Global Workspace Theory fully embraces the contemporary theory of the near-infinite powers of computation. The alternative path – The Integrated Information Theory – takes a more fundamental approach to define consciousness. It stipulates that any mechanism driven by some intrinsic energy is conscious. It embraces past experiences yet stipulates the question as to what the future beyond intelligent machines might provide, for example when leaving the domain of today’s reality.

C.G. Jung’s Theory on Synchronicity

According to Swiss Psychiatrist C.G. Jung, synchronicity defines the belief that events are meaningfully related not by cause and effect as applied by AI, but by some other principle. Jung was convinced that this principle was at work in cases of coincidence, where two or more events are linked in a way that cannot be explained by chance. While the theory of synchronicity is still up for debate, Jung’s theory provides an interesting perspective on coincidence and chance. For Jung, synchronicity signals that there is more happening in this world than what we can see with our eyes. He believed that synchronicity is a way for the universe to communicate with us and thereby holds important clues relative to our lives and our destiny. He was convinced that these meaningful coincidences do not exist by accident but that they reflect our own personal journey in life. Based on his observations and research, he believed that meaningful coincidences were actually unexplainable by cause and effect but instead had a spiritual or deeper meaning. Jung’s theory suggests that our connection to the collective unconscious could provide the explanation to this mystery. These kinds of coincidences were not random — they were actually signs from the unconscious self. In other words, our subconscious was trying to communicate with us through synchronicity. According to Jung, recognizing the significance of synchronicity can give us a greater sense of control over our lives and open our awareness to new life experiences.

David Chalmer‘s Theory of Living in a Simulation

In a review of his new book ‘Reality +’ written by PD Smith and published by the Guardian Magazine, David Chalmers, Philosopher and Professor at NYU, argues that virtual worlds are just as real as anything else. In the Wachowskis’ 1999 movie The Matrix, the life of the central character Neo is revealed to be an illusion. His green-tinted reality is actually a digital simulation created by connecting human brains to a computer. When Neo swallows the red pill offered to him by Morpheus, his body is disconnected from the computer system, and he is plunged into a new and frightening reality. For the first time he experiences the physical world. But as David Chalmers points out, how does Neo know that this new reality is not just another simulation? A brain-computer interface would allow our eyes and other sense organs to be bypassed, affording access to a complete new range of simulated sensual experiences. “Ultimately, this will transform how we live, work and think. My guess is that within a century we will have virtual realities that are indistinguishable from the nonvirtual world,” Chalmers predicts. “Given all the ways in which virtual worlds may surpass the nonvirtual world, life in virtual worlds might often be the preferred lifeform to choose,” he writes. Chalmers rejects the idea that digital experiences are always mere escapist fantasies as they might be experienced in video games, for example. “Simulations are not illusions, they are real. Virtual objects are real and they are clearly different from non-virtual objects. A virtual chair is created using digital processes. In contrast a physical chair is made of atoms and quarks.” According to Chalmers, we could already be inhabitants of a virtual reality. We cannot prove that we are not part of a computer simulation because any evidence of ordinary reality can be simulated. If aliens have human-level intelligence, they could eventually develop computers and program them. If these alien civilisations survive long enough, they will create simulated universes. ‘Starseeds’ represents another group of people who believe they are aliens. Unlike ‘Earth souls’, who are said to reincarnate on Earth, they believe to have been reawakened from another planet to be born here. Statistically speaking simulated beings probably already vastly outnumber real ones. Hence, it is more likely that we are living in a simulation rather than in the original version of our world.


In 2003, philosopher Nick Bostrom introduced his famous ‘simulation theory’ in which he explores the probability that we are living inside an artificial simulation. Bostrom discusses how a future society could become so technologically advanced that its inhabitants learn to generate complex artificial worlds using powerful computers. If this is possible, then the probability that we are living inside a computer simulation is indeed extremely high. Only time will tell, if utopian or dystopian scenarios – as documented by today’s science fiction – will become our new reality.

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