Rushy J, Sanches D.
“Technology and Consciousness Workshops Report”.
SRI. 2019 03.
We report on a series of eight workshops held in the summer of 2017 on the topic "technology and consciousness". The workshops covered many subjects but the overall goal was to assess the possibility of machine consciousness, and its potential implications.
In the body of the report, we summarize most of the basic themes that were discussed: the structure and function of the brain, theories of consciousness, explicit attempts to construct conscious machines, detection and measurement of consciousness, possible emergence of a conscious technology, methods for control of such a technology and ethical considerations that might be owed to it.
An appendix outlines the topics of each workshop and provides abstracts of the talks delivered.
Erowid thinks this report is poorly written. Although we were told that a white paper would be produced from summaries of each week, instead over a year passed, several of the key authors left SRI, and then new people picked up the topic. This paper does not reflect the excellence of the participants and content. The review process for this document was below undergrad standards.
Erowid's abstract (written in February 2019) from their May 2017 presentation is included here, but is also part of the full paper.
Fire and Earth Erowid: Altering Consciousness
This talk discussed how definitions and tests of consciousness can be improved by data from humans’ intentional alteration of consciousness. For thousands of years, people have explored their own minds and meta-concepts about consciousness via psychoactive plants and drugs (alcohol, cannabis, opium, psychedelics), practices (meditation, dreaming, drumming, physical ordeals), and, more recently, technologies (direct nerve recording and stimulation, transcranial magnetic stimulation, light and sound machines). Biological consciousness is physio-chemically mediated. Everything we think and experience alters us physically at the cellular and even molecular level. The effects of psychoactive substances reveal that consciousness is a shifting series of distinct states that have yet to be fully defined or quantified. In a very real sense, everything is psychoactive.
Deliberately altering the substrates upon which conscious decision-making processes operate creates recursive complexities that highlight questions, insights, and testable theories about how we define our conscious selves. Psychedelic or mystical states can influence how boundaries are drawn between “self” and “other” and how to circumscribe what constitutes a conscious entity. These issues have been brought to the forefront by classic psychedelics (psilocybin, mescaline, DMT, LSD), but emerging technologies for recursive-feedback stimulation and control of peripheral and central nervous systems also offer unprecedented opportunities to test the boundary conditions of human consciousness. The very concept of “self” is increasingly intertwined with computers and networked communications. As humans integrate into our lives technologies that affect how we think, feel, and interact, we must rationally address what it means to have our hands on the levers that control the systems on which our consciousness runs. Can one be fully aware of one’s consciousness without being aware that this consciousness can be intentionally altered? The meta-awareness that consciousness can be changed and the urge to alter consciousness may be testable signs of consciousness itself.