todd_e_feinberg's picture
M.D. is Associate Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Chief of the Yarmon Neurobehavior and Alzheimer's Disease Center, Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City
Psychiatrist and Neurologist, Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Author, Altered Egos

I believe the human race will never decide that an advanced computer possesses consciousness. Only in science fiction will a person be charged with murder if they unplug a PC. I believe this because I hold, but cannot yet prove, that in order for an entity to be consciousness and possess a mind, it has to be a living being.

Being alive, of course, does not guarantee the presence of a mind. For example, a plant carries on the necessary metabolic functions to be alive, but still does not possess a mind. A chimpanzee, on the other hand, is a different story. All the behavioral features we share with chimps in addition to life, such as intelligence, the ability to deceive, mirror self-recognition, some individual social identity, make chimps seem so much like us that many in the scientific community intuitively grant chimps "beinghood" and consciousness. 

In addition to being alive, therefore, it appears that a living thing must be a being, must possess a self, to possess a mind. But silicon chips are not alive, and computers are not beings. I argue that this is so because the particular material substance and arrangement of the brain is essential to the creation of consciousness and "beinghood." Computers will never achieve consciousness because in order for a computer to be "conscious like us" it will need to be made of living stuff like us, to grow like us, and unfortunately, to be able to die like us.