Brent Meeker wrote:

>For example, if I am running an AI program on my computer and a particular
>bitstring is associated with the simulated being noting, "I think, therefore
>I am", then should not the same bitstring arising by chance in the course
>of, say, a spreadsheet calculation give rise to the same moment of
>consciousness - regardless of whether the spreadsheet user or anyone other
>than the simulated being himself is or can be aware of this?

I think not. Consciousness is a narrative the brain constructs to form
memories. It has a context. It is consciousness *of* something. A bitstring
in a spreadsheet has a different context (unless the spreadsheet is simulation
of some "world") and isn't fulfilling the function of consciousness.

So, how long a bitstring do you need to create a context? You could change the argument a little and consider the entire simulation of a world complete with conscious inhabitants; it would still only amount to a very long sequence of 1's and 0's running on a digital computer. If you believe in the computational hypothesis of mind, you believe two things about this computer program:

(1) This sequence of binary digits has a special organisation, which can be understood as conforming to certain rules and relationships in a particular programming language;

(2) Implementing the binary sequence on a digital computer results in a simulated world with inhabitants who are self-aware.

You can stipulate that (1) must be true for (2) to be true, but it does not thereby follow that any conscious being in the physical world must be able to understand the details of (1) in order for (2) to be true. For example, suppose the computer language were devised by a long extinct civilization, and no-one alive now is able to understand it: should that make any difference to the simulation "from inside"? Similarly, if the entire computation occurs by chance in the course of another computation - a spreadsheet, a cryptography cracking program on the planet Zork, distributed throughout a computer network in tiny pieces as in the Egan story - how can the conscious beings "inside" possibly know this?

--Stathis Papaioannou

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