Evolutionary Approach to Artificial Consciousness

Chris Adami – Michigan State University

Abstract: Given that the concept of consciousness itself is nebulous to many, to try to create artificial consciousness seems foolhardy. But if we go by Feynman's stance "What I cannot create I do not understand" (scribbled on his last blackboard), then creating consciousness artificially may be the only way to understand natural consciousness. However, as the last 50 years of engineering efforts have shown, just the creation of intelligent behavior (never mind consciousness) has faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles. I will argue here that the reason why engineering efforts have failed us is that intelligent behavior (of the interesting kind) entails a level of information integration that is beyond the reach of human design. However, evolutionary methods have no such restrictions, and I will present results where an evolutionary approach has been shown to lead to significant and persistent increases in Phi (an information-theoretical quantification of information integration), as well as to the evolution of internal models (representations) that are thought to be crucial for consciousness.

Biography: Christoph Adami is Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, as well as Professor of Physics and Astronomy, at Michigan State University. He obtained his Ph.D. and M.A. in theoretical physics from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, as well as a Diplom in Physics from Bonn University (Germany). His main research focus is Darwinian evolution, which he studies at different levels of organization (from simple molecules to brains). He has pioneered the application of methods from information theory to the study of evolution, and designed the "Avida" system that launched the use of digital life as a tool for investigating basic questions in evolutionary biology. He wrote the textbook "Introduction to Artificial Life" (Springer, 1998), is the recipient of NASA's Exceptional Achievement Medal, and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).