A Theoretical Computer Science Perspective on Consciousness

Date & Time: 18/01/2021, 8:30 pm - 9:30 pm

Venue : MS Teams: https://tinyurl.com/y56jrn9b

Recorded Talk: Click Here


The quest to understand consciousness, once the purview of philosophers and theologians, is now actively pursued by scientists of many stripes. This talk looks at consciousness from the perspective of theoretical computer science. It formalizes the Global Workspace Theory (GWT) originated by cognitive neuroscientist Bernard Baars and further developed by him, Stanislas Dehaene, and others. Our major contribution lies in the precise formal definition of a Conscious Turing Machine (CTM), also called a Conscious AI. We define the CTM in the spirit of Alan Turings simple yet powerful definition of a computer, the Turing Machine (TM). We are not looking for a complex model of the brain nor of cognition but for a simple model of (the admittedly complex concept of) consciousness.

After formally defining CTM, we give a formal definition of consciousness in CTM. We then suggest why the CTM has the feeling of consciousness. The reasonableness of the definitions and explanations can be judged by how well they agree with commonly accepted intuitive concepts of human consciousness, the range of related concepts that the model explains easily and naturally, and the extent of its agreement with scientific evidence.

Joint work with Manuel Blum and Avrim Blum.

Biography of the speaker

Lenore Blum (PhD, MIT) is Distinguished Career Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and Founding Director of Project Olympus, an innovation center that works with faculty and students to bridge the gap between cutting-edge university research/innovation and economy-promoting commercialization for the benefit of our communities. Project Olympus is a good example of Blums determination to make a real difference in the academic community and the world beyond.

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 founding co-Director of the Math/Science Network and its Expanding Your Horizons conferences for middle and high school girls. At CMU she founded the Women@SCS program and CS4HS, now sponsored world-wide by Google. In 2004 she received the US Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. In 2009 she received the Carnegie Science Catalyst Award recognizing her work targeting high-tech talent to promote economic growth in the Pittsburgh region and for increasing the participation of women in computer science. Currently half the computer science undergraduate majors at CMU are women.

Lenore has served the professional community in numerous capacities, including as President of the Association for Women in Mathematics, Vice President of the American Mathematical Society, and as a member of the MIT Mathematics Visiting Committee. She has taught at the University of California at Berkeley, was a Senior Researcher at the International Computer Science Institute and Deputy Director of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, both also in Berkeley. She is currently on the Advisory Board of the new free online WorldQuant University, built on the premise that while talent is universally distributed, opportunity is not.

Lenores research, from her early work in model theory and differential fields (logic and algebra) to her more recent work in developing a theory of computation and complexity over the real numbers (mathematics and computer science), has focused on merging seemingly unrelated areas. The latter work, founding a theory of computation and complexity over continuous domains (with Felipe Cucker, Mike Shub and Steve Smale), forms a theoretical basis for scientific computation. On the eve of Alan Turings 100th birthday in June 2012, she was plenary speaker at the Turing Centenary Celebration at the University of Cambridge, England, showing how a little known (to logicians and computer scientists!) paper of Turings is fundamental to this theory. She is currently working on an exciting research project with Manuel Blum and Avrim Blum developing a computer architecture for a conscious AI based on cognitive neuroscience.


Lecture Video Recording (link)

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