Thanks to major advances in cognitive neuroscience, the world is on the brink of a scientific understanding of how the brain achieves consciousness. In 1988, cognitive neuroscientist Bernard Baars’ proposed a Global Workspace Model (GWM) of the brain, sketched its computer architecture, and outlined its implications for understanding consciousness. In 1990, the invention of fMRI enabled us to witness brain functioning in real time. As a consequence, the quest to understand consciousness, once the purview of philosophers and theologians, is now actively pursued also by scientists and mathematicians.
This talk discusses consciousness from the perspective of theoretical computer science. Its major contribution lies in the precise formal definition of a Conscious Turing Machine (CTM), also called Conscious AI. The CTM is defined in the spirit of Alan Turing’s simple yet powerful definition of a computing machine, the Turing Machine (TM), as a way to formalize rigorously, explicitly, mathematically and simply Baars’ GWM.
The reasonableness of definitions of consciousness in the CTM can be judged by how well its concepts agree with the commonly agreed-upon intuitive concepts of human consciousness.
This is joint work of Manuel, Lenore and Avrim Blum.
Lenore Blum (Ph.D., MIT) is Distinguished Career Professor of Computer Science, Emeritus, at Carnegie Mellon, where she was founding director of Project Olympus, faculty director of the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship, and held the inaugural Deans’ Chair in Technology Entrepreneurship. Project Olympus is a good example of her determination to make a real difference in the academic community and the world beyond. Olympus has two main aims: to bridge the gap between cutting-edge university research/innovation and economy-promoting commercialization for the benefit of our communities and creating a climate, culture and community to enable talent and ideas to grow in the region. Lenore is internationally recognized for her work in increasing the participation of girls and women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. She was a founder of the Association for Women in Mathematics and the Expanding Your Horizons Network for middle and high school girls. At Carnegie Mellon she founded the Women@SCS program. In 2004 she received the U.S. Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. In 2009 she received the Carnegie Science Catalyst Award recognizing her work with Project Olympus targeting high-tech talent to promote economic growth in the Pittsburgh region and for increasing the participation of women in computer science. Currently, women comprise 50% of the undergraduate computer science majors at Carnegie Mellon, more than twice the national average. Her research, founding a theory of computation and complexity over continuous domains, forms a theoretical basis for scientific computation. On the eve of Alan Turing’s 100th birthday in June 2012, she was plenary speaker at the Turing Centenary Celebration at the University of Cambridge, England. Her current research, on developing a computer architecture for a conscious AI inspired both by Alan Turing and recent developments in cognitive neuroscience, is joint with her husband Manuel Blum and son Avrim Blum.
Manuel Blum , the Bruce Nelson University Professor of Computer Science, Emeritus, at Carnegie Mellon University, is a pioneer in the field of theoretical computer science and the winner of the 1995 Turing Award in recognition of his contributions to the foundations of computational complexity theory and its applications to cryptography and program checking, a mathematical approach to writing programs that check their work. He was born in Caracas, Venezuela, where his parents settled after fleeing Europe in the 1930s and came to the United States in the mid-1950s to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While studying electrical engineering, he pursued his desire to understand thinking and brains by working in the neurophysiology laboratory of Dr. Warren S. McCulloch and Walter Pitts, then concentrated on mathematical logic and recursion theory for the insight it gave him on brains and thinking. He did his doctoral work under the supervision of Artificial Intelligence pioneer Marvin Minsky and earned a Ph.D. from MIT in mathematics in 1964. Blum began his teaching career at MIT as an assistant professor of mathematics and, in 1968, joined the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley. He joined the Carnegie Mellon faculty in 2001. Blum has supervised the theses of 35 doctoral students who now pepper almost every major computer science department in the country. The many ground-breaking areas of theoretical computer science chartered by his academic descendants are legend.