Here's how I look at the question of whether a bit string, if accidentally
implemented as part of another program, would be conscious.
First, it's a little confusing what we mean by a bit string. Is this
the program of the computer? A snapshot of its state? Can a program
or a snapshot be conscious? Suppose that instead of talking about a
bit string, we consider instead the actual sequence of states that the
computer goes through. Then we could ask, if this sequence of states
matched the sequence of states that was part of a conscious program, but
in this case they happened accidentally as part of some other program,
would they nevertheless create a consciousness?
Second, even with this definition, it's an unreasonable question.
That is, given what we know about the complexity of consciousness, it
doesn't make sense that a computer could accidentally run a program that
matched the run of a conscious simulation, for a long enough period that
it would correspond to a perceptible moment of consciousness. The brain
has something like 10^12 neurons and 10^15 synapses, and they'd probably
have to be simulated at microsecond resolution (if not a million times
smaller) to get a simulation that was at all accurate. This means that
there would probably be something like 10^23 bits of information in a
simulation of a tenth of a second of a human brain, if you capture all
of the connectivity and timing information.
There's no way that you could accidentally match a 10^23 bit pattern
in this universe. Even if every sub-atomic particle in the observable
universe were a computer, you'd be hard pressed to match even a 300 bit
pattern by accident. The additional difficulty for the accidental match
of a brain pattern is so much greater that our minds can't even conceive
of how impossible it is.
Third, even though it will never happen in our universe, if we believe
in the multiverse then we have to admit that it will happen by accident,
somewhere. So we might still want to answer the question of whether
this accidental instantiation of the computation is conscious.
I would approach this from the Schmidhuber perspective that all programs
exist and run, in a Platonic sense, and this creates all computable
universes. Some programs create universes like ours, which have
conscious entities. Other programs create random universes, which may,
through sheer outlandish luck, instantiate patterns which match those
of conscious entities.
All consciousnesses exist in this model, and as Bruno emphasizes, from
the inside there is no way to know which program instantiated you.
In fact this may not even be a meaningful question. But what are
meaningful to ask, in the Schmidhuber sense, are two things. First,
what is the measure of your consciousness: how likely are you to exist?
And second, among all of the instantiations of your consciousness in all
the universes, how much of your measure does each one contribute?
This, then, is how I would approach the question. Not, is this accidental
instantiation conscious; but rather, how much measure do such accidental
instantiations contribute, compared to non-accidental ones like those
we see in the universe around us?
I suggest that the answer is that accidental instantiations only
contribute an infinitesimal amount, compared to the contributions of
universes like ours. Our universe appears to have extremely simple
physical laws and initial conditions. Yet it formed complex matter and
chemistry which allowed life to evolve and consciousness to develop.
Maybe we got some lucky breaks; the universe doesn't seem particularly
fecund as far as we can tell, but conscious life did happen. The odds
against it were not, as in the case of accidental instantiation, an
exponential of an astronomical number. This means that the contribution
to a consciousness from a lawful universe like the one we observe
is almost infinitely greater than the contribution from accidental
Therefore, I would suggest that the answer to the question of whether an
accidental instantiation is conscious is simply this: it doesn't matter.
Even if it is conscious, its contribution to the measure of that conscious
experience is so small as to be completely negligible.