Scientists from the universities of Essex and Bristol in the U.K. have received a £500,000 grant to build a "conscious robot", according to The Guardian. As you all know, even the most sophisticated robots today are only able to follow their instructions: they don't "think." So, how to build "consciousness"?
"Consciousness is perhaps the last remaining mystery in understanding what it is to be human," said Owen Holland, who will lead the work at Essex University. "By attempting to build physical systems which can produce a form of artificial consciousness, we hope to learn more about the nature of consciousness."
Mr Holland's idea is that a conscious robot would have to build up internal models - one for the "self" of the robot and another for the world around it.
These models would be the basis from which the robot would build experience. By experimenting with how its own body reacts with the world around it, the robot will learn what is beneficial to it and what is not.
In order to better define what is consciousness, Holland and others turned to Igor Aleksander, an emeritus professor of neural networks at Imperial College, who defined five axioms "needed to form consciousness in living beings and, subsequently, in machines."
What are these five criterions? We have a sense of place; we have imagination; we can focus our attention; we can plan future actions; and we can be guided by our emotions.
Now, the researchers plan to develop a robot which will evolve in increasingly complex environments. The robot then will have to build different models of itself and the world around it to survive into these environments, while filling the above criterions.
So what to expect from this project?
At one level, creating consciousness in a machine would simply make better robots. Instead of blindly following their programming, conscious robots would be better able to react dynamically to their environment, adjusting their behaviour on any information they could gather.
Conscious robots could be used for planetary exploration, for example. Complex engineering control systems usually need to keep track of their own performance; an intelligent robot would offer just this sort of reflexive capability.
For more information, please read this very interesting article in its entirety.
Source: Alok Jha, The Guardian, August 25, 2003
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