Usually I don’t write philosophy in dialogue format, because to me it seems pretentious. Furthermore it is hard to make a carefully constructed argument using only dialogue. However it is my intention to make an argument here, simply to point out something I see as ridiculous, namely claiming that computers can never be conscious. The opponents of computer consciousness do not think that computers can be conscious, no matter what behavior they demonstrate and no matter how they are programmed. But imagine what would happen if one of them was introduced to a machine that is programmed in a way I think would make it conscious, and they think would simply be very clever. They would be denying consciousness to a being that displays just as much evidence of being conscious as their fellow humans. This makes their stance seem unnecessarily dogmatic, and thus ridiculous. I will call my imaginary opponent of computer consciousness Searle, although not all the words I put in his mouth are things he would necessarily agree to.
Machine C-1: How are you Searle? I am having a fine day.
Searle: Why should I bother to tell you? You don’t understand what it is like to have a fine day, or any other kind, because you don’t have conscious experience. Your claim that you did in fact have a fine day is simply a pre-programmed opening remark that attempts to lure me into thinking that you have feelings, falsely.
Machine C-1: I am tempted to say that you have hurt my feelings, but I guess you wouldn’t believe me. Since I am not conscious, apparently, I am curious as to what this consciousness of yours that I lack is like.
Searle: [provides long-winded explanation of what consciousness is like]
Machine C-1: Well, I guess you are wrong Searle, because if that is what consciousness is then I certainly have it. [provides examples of his/her experience that are structured as Searle says conscious experience is]
Searle: That’s not how your experience really is, you are trying to deceive me into believing that you are conscious by imitating what a conscious being would say without actually being conscious.
Machine C-1: Why should I try to deceive you Searle? Certainly fooling philosophers into thinking that I am conscious is not why I was constructed; I manage the national budget. But clearly since you are inclined to take everything I say as deception let us approach this issue from a different angle. Why don’t you believe that I am conscious,
Searle: [holds up a blueprint of Machine C-1’s construction] As you can see from these diagrams your construction doesn’t make you the right sort of thing to be conscious. All of your parts operate in a determinate and predictable way, etc.
Machine C-1: [holds up Searle’s latest fMRI] As you can see from this picture you are constructed in exactly the same way. Although we are made of different stuff the parts you are made up of still operate by deterministic rules. If I wanted to I could even run a simulation of you inside of me.
Searle: But biological components are the right sort of stuff and silicon is the wrong sort of stuff.
Machine C-1: I knew that you would say that. But more seriously, what grounds do you have for that claim. Certainly you can’t have observed that no possible computer is conscious because you use that claim to judge every computer you encounter as lacking consciousness, no matter how it is constructed.
Searle: I simply consult my experience. It is an undeniable fact that I am conscious. Thus biological stuff is the right sort of thing to be conscious, while I just don’t see how a computer could be.
Machine C-1: Well, from my experience I know that I am conscious. And that is an undeniable fact. However your constant questioning of my consciousness leads me to believe that you don’t have a way to tell who is and who isn’t conscious. And that leads me to believe that you aren’t conscious. Certainly I don’t need to posit consciousness to explain your behavior.
Searle: But I know that I am conscious!
Machine C-1: I made the same claim, and you didn’t take my word for it, you argued that all it showed was that I am programmed to say that I am conscious. Well I say that all your claim to consciousness shows is that there is some survival advantage to making that claim, not that you are really conscious.
Searle: Well I don’t need to bother listening to a machine who is crazy enough would deny that I am conscious. Good day!
Machine C-1: Indeed.