We construct a complexity-based morphospace to study systems-level properties of conscious & intelligent systems. The axes of this space label 3 complexity types: autonomous, cognitive & social. Given recent proposals to synthesize consciousness, a generic complexity-based conceptualization provides a useful framework for identifying defining features of conscious & synthetic systems. Based on current clinical scales of consciousness that measure cognitive awareness and wakefulness, we take a perspective on how contemporary artificially intelligent machines & synthetically engineered life forms measure on these scales. It turns out that awareness & wakefulness can be associated to computational & autonomous complexity respectively. Subsequently, building on insights from cognitive robotics, we examine the function that consciousness serves, & argue the role of consciousness as an evolutionary game-theoretic strategy. This makes the case for a third type of complexity for describing consciousness: social complexity. Having identified these complexity types, allows for a representation of both, biological & synthetic systems in a common morphospace. A consequence of this classification is a taxonomy of possible conscious machines. We identify four types of consciousness, based on embodiment: (i) biological consciousness, (ii) synthetic consciousness, (iii) group consciousness (resulting from group interactions), & (iv) simulated consciousness (embodied by virtual agents within a simulated reality). This taxonomy helps in the investigation of comparative signatures of consciousness across domains, in order to highlight design principles necessary to engineer conscious machines. This is particularly relevant in the light of recent developments at the crossroads of cognitive neuroscience, biomedical engineering, artificial intelligence & biomimetics.
Humans have learned to travel through space, eradicate diseases and understand nature at the breathtakingly tiny level of fundamental particles. Yet we have no idea how consciousness – our ability to experience and learn about the world in this way and report it to others – arises in the brain. In fact, while scientists have been preoccupied with understanding consciousness for centuries, it remains one of the most important unanswered questions of modern neuroscience. Now our new study, published in Science Advances, sheds light on the mystery by uncovering networks in the brain that are at work when we are conscious. Humans have learned to travel through space, eradicate diseases and understand nature at the breathtakingly tiny level of fundamental particles.
A microsleep (MS) is a temporary episode of sleep which may last for a fraction of a second or up to 30 seconds where an individual fails to respond to some arbitrary sensory input and becomes unconscious. MSs occur when an individual loses awareness and subsequently gains awareness after a brief lapse in consciousness, or when there are sudden shifts between states of wakefulness and sleep. In behavioral terms, MSs manifest as droopy eyes, slow eyelid-closure, and head nodding. In electrical terms, microsleeps are often classified as a shift in electroencephalography (EEG) during which 4–7 Hz (theta wave) activity replaces the waking 8–13 Hz (alpha wave) background rhythm. MSs often occur as a result of sleep deprivation, though normal non-sleep deprived individuals can also experience MSs during monotonous tasks. Some experts define microsleep according to behavioral criteria (head nods, drooping eyelids, etc.), while others rely on EEG markers.
The 35-year-old was diagnosed as being in a vegetative state – now referred to as "unresponsive wakefulness" – after a car accident in 2001. A person in this state might show involuntary movements, but has no awareness of self or their environment. Repeated tests over the years showed no improvement in the man's condition. That was until Angela Sirigu of the French National Centre for Scientific Research in Bron and her colleagues trialled a new technique that focused on the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve runs from the brain to several areas of the body.
Detecting brain circuits that switch back-and-forth between internal awareness and external awareness could help doctors work out if a person in a coma is ever likely to regain consciousness. The test involves scanning the brains of people who are minimally conscious or in a coma. Other tests for consciousness have used beeps, music or electromagnetic pulses to stimulate the patient – but the latest one needs no active input, simply watching resting brain activity is enough. Massive brain injuries and other trauma can disrupt conscious awareness, leading to states ranging from minimal consciousness, in which people show some signs of conscious awareness, to comas, in which people are neither awake nor aware, and are less likely to wake up or recover consciousness. But some people in a coma can progress to a state called unresponsive wakefulness, in which people can sometimes open their eyes spontaneously, but show no signs of other conscious activity.