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Computer prof: Computers will never be conscious

Subhash Kak counters the AI boosters with cogent explanations

Kak, the Regents Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Oklahoma State University, thinks that ambitious recent projects have failed because computers, as calculating machines, don’t replicate what consciousness actually is:

Some researchers continue to insist that simulating neuroscience with computers is the way to go. Others, like me, view these efforts as doomed to failure because we do not believe consciousness is computable. Our basic argument is that brains integrate and compress multiple components of an experience, including sight and smell—which simply can’t be handled in the way today’s computers sense, process and store data.

Subhash Kak, “Why a computer will never be truly conscious” at The Conversation

He highlights a number of additional problems with the idea that computers can be conscious, including these two:

A conscious person is aware of what they’re thinking, and has the ability to stop thinking about one thing and start thinking about another – no matter where they were in the initial train of thought. But that’s impossible for a computer to do. More than 80 years ago, pioneering British computer scientist Alan Turing showed that there was no way ever to prove that any particular computer program could stop on its own – and yet that ability is central to consciousness.

Subhash Kak, “Why a computer will never be truly conscious” at The Conversation

Yes, that’s Turing’s famous Halting Problem. As Jonathan Bartlett explains, the human mind is a Halting Oracle.


These ideas are confirmed by medical research findings that there are no unique structures in the brain that exclusively handle consciousness. Rather, functional MRI imaging shows that different cognitive tasks happen in different areas of the brain. This has led neuroscientist Semir Zeki to conclude that “consciousness is not a unity, and that there are instead many consciousnesses that are distributed in time and space.” That type of limitless brain capacity isn’t the sort of challenge a finite computer can ever handle.

Subhash Kak, “Why a computer will never be truly conscious” at The Conversation

We have much to learn about human consciousness. Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor offers a brief look at the work of four well-regarded researchers whose work sheds light on the reality of the mind. The brain, he says, can be cut in half but the intellect and will cannot. The rules are not the same as those that govern computers. Thus we need not expect computers to have anything we would recognize as consciousness.

See also: Quest for consciousness: A historic contest is announced. The two theories to be tested pit “information processing” against “causal power” as a model of consciousness. One side must admit it is wrong. Consciousness is a slippery concept but the two prominent theories make different predictions as to which part of the brain will become active when a person becomes aware of an image; thus they can be tested by neuroscientists.

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Computer prof: Computers will never be conscious