Conscious machines: Defining questions

Olivia Carter, Jakob Hohwy, Jeroen Van Boxtel, Victor Lamme, Ned Block, Christof Koch, Naotsugu Tsuchiya

Research output: Contribution to journalLetter

25 Citations (Scopus)


In their Review “What is consciousness, and could machines have it?” (27 October 2017, p. 486), S. Dehaene et al. argue that the science of consciousness indicates that we are not on the verge of creating conscious machines. However, Dehaene et al. ask and answer the wrong questions.
To determine whether machines are conscious, we must ask whether they
have subjective experiences: Do machines consciously perceive and sense colors, sounds, and smells? Do they feel emotions?Unfortunately, Dehaene et al. relegate this issue to the final paragraph of their Review, dismissing it as a philosophical question “beyond the scope of the present paper.” Instead, they ask whether machines “mimic” consciousness by exhibiting the
global availability of information (the ability to select, access, and report information) and metacognition (the capacity for self-monitoring and confidence estimation). Questions concerning to what extent
machines have these capacities are interesting, but neither capacity is necessary or sufficient for subjective experience (1, 2). Furthermore, Dehaene et al.’s emphasis on metacognition and global broadcasting
presumes that the prefrontal cortex is the home of consciousness, which remains a matter of debate (3, 4).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-4
Number of pages4
Issue number6374
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes


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