imagining in detail how proper software design could engender ma- chine consciousness, in that it makes a flawed analogy that manipu- lates our intuitions. Disputes like these indicate that expectations for machine consciousness still rely more on opinion than on fact. But why should this be surprising? Apart from some conscious functions we share with animals, our best and sole model for an artificial mind operating at a high level is the human mind itself—and we do not know that very well.
To be realistic, the question “Can machines think?” is of limited pragmatic interest at this point. We are only in the earliest stages of creating machine intelligence; meanwhile, useful creatures are being created without their builders taking a stand or caring whether they are conscious or “really” think. Looking to the future, however, many researchers believe that machine consciousness will be realized. Some, such as the roboticist Hans Moravec of Carnegie Mellon University, adopt the visionary view that artificial minds will surpass ours. In his 1999 book Robot: Mere Machine to ranscendent Mind, Moravec predicts that “Fourth-Generation Universal Robots” will be available around the year 2040, with “human perceptual and motor abilities and supe- rior reasoning powers,” and suggests that we humans are “parents [who] can gracefully retire as our mind children grow beyond our imagining.”
Whether or not this particular prediction is correct, it is true that as artificial brains and creatures become more capable and enter hu- man society, the question of their consciousness becomes more press- ing.The practical reason to be concerned is that unless the being is truly conscious rather than only seeming so, it might make faulty decisions—perhaps dangerous ones—in dealing with humans. To know that misapplication of its strength could harm a human, the artificial being might need to develop empathy, through the sharing of such human feelings as the sensation of pain; otherwise, it might become a high-tech sociopath.
From the human perspective, there is a moral issue as well, be- cause once an entity crosses a certain threshold of sentience, we enter into a different relationship with it. No one hesitates to kick a rock,