Conscious Machines interview

Talking about conscious machines often provokes visions of dark-future scenarios akin to those in the Terminator movies, where humanity is beseiged by robots which were, in a fit of typical human hubris, created in man’s own image. There are researchers trying to build conscious machines today, but their aims and ideas are as far from these science fiction movie nightmares as one could imagine – much more mundane, but at the same time quietly astonishing in their own right.

Regular readers may remember my recent visit to a Cafe Scientifique where the guest speaker was one Professor Igor Aleksander, a man whose field of study is the building of conscious machines. You may also remember me mentioning that I’d asked him if I could interview him to enquire about the subject further.

To cut a long story short, he agreed, the interview took place over the last month or so, and the finished piece is now awaiting your perusal. (In case you’re wondering, it hasn’t appeared here in the regular feed because static pages in WordPress don’t work that way; I wanted it filed in such a way that its relevance in searches didn’t decay in the way that normal blog posts do.)

If it is anywhere near as interesting and revelatory an experience to read it as it was to put it together, I can only recommend it to anyone who enjoys the sort of material I usually post about here at VCTB. Prof. Aleksander discusses the difference between his research and that of AI specialists, how one might go about defining non-animal consciousness, its potential uses, whether or not we will need to assemble a framework of rights for machine entities, and his fears, hopes and aspirations for science and technology in the next few decades. He was a delightful man in person, and an inspirational interviewee. So why not read the whole thing? Here’s a brief teaser for you:

“The computer is an all-purpose system that has to be programmed to behave, whether in stupid or intelligent ways. In a computer system, the only one who may have understood something is the programmer, not the computer. I am more attracted to models that take the brain for what it is: a network of networks of brain cells. It fascinates me to discover how this kind of system can actually represent the world, for the best purposes of the owner of that brain.”


It’s been a busy yet productive weekend here in Velcro City. In addition to assembling the interview, I’ve upgraded WordPress (yes, again – it may be a chore, but I’d rather have to update regularly for the sake of security with an open-source platform than rely on occasional upgrades from a ‘regular’ software house), finished and sent off my first review job for Vector magazine for approval, and managed to squeeze in some (admittedly bare-bones and none-too-brilliant) poetry work for the first time in ages. I also discovered that I may well be getting my first review/interview combo job from Interzone quite soon – more news as we have it.

Furthermore, I posted up the first essay from Futurismic’s new regular columnist, who is none other than the esteemed and erudite Jamais Cascio, co-founder of and general futurist-pundit extraordinaire. I winced physically when he sent me his biography – if I’d have known quite how well-published and influential he really is, I’d probably never have dared ask him to contribute. But I did, and his first piece is a corker of a discussion of futurism as a mind-set and way of thinking, with a salutary message for wide-eyed future-geeks like yours truly – I shall have more to say about this, probably tomorrow. In the meantime, go read what the man has to say. (You should read Futurismic regularly, you know; it comes highly recommended.)

So, there we go. If that’s not enough to amuse, entertain, edify, or distract my readers from work on a Monday morning, I don’t know what is. More bloggage tomorrow; thanks for dropping by. 🙂

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