"By 2029, computers will be able to understand our language, learn from experience and outsmart even the most intelligent humans, according to Google's director of engineering Ray Kurzweil.
Computers are on the threshold of reading and understanding the semantic content of a language, but not quite at human levels. But since they can read a million times more material than humans they can make up for that with quantity. So IBM's Watson is a pretty weak reader on each page, but it read the 200m pages of Wikipedia. And basically what I'm doing at Google is to try to go beyond what Watson could do. To do it at Google scale. Which is to say to have the computer read tens of billions of pages. Watson doesn't understand the implications of what it's reading. It's doing a sort of pattern matching. It doesn't understand that if John sold his red Volvo to Mary that involves a transaction or possession and ownership being transferred. It doesn't understand that kind of information and so we are going to actually encode that, really try to teach it to understand the meaning of what these documents are saying.
"Substitute 'bot' with any other intelligence and reread your post and it is equally valid."
Of course, and this is what makes the problem so difficult. One can never know, with absolute certainty, that anyone but oneself is experiencing consciousness; but that doesn't mean we can't make working judgements. We infer consciousness in others (usually based on behaviour). But a conscious entity never infers its own consciousness; it must be self-evident.
I am suggesting that the inference that a bot is consciously experiencing reality is not evidenced by the simple fact that it responds to the environment (or has models of the environment specified in code). True, neither of us have definitive proof, but I see no compelling reason to believe that it is so (other than a theoretical possibility, which IMO, is exceedingly small).
For instance, a mobile phone has what you might call "awareness" of its energy levels and location in space; it responds to light, orientation, touch and so on. By your definition, the phone is conscious. It is "thinking" about its location in space, etc. I cannot prove that the phone is not conscious (just as you cannot prove that it is), but I make a working judgement that it is not. At present, everything that has a semblance of consciousness (which we must infer) is alive and contains DNA. Computer programs/bots/AI seem to be more akin to models of conscious life, rather than conscious life itself.
Someone else posted something about David Chalmers, and I found some interesting discussion here [consc.net] about the easy vs. hard problems of consciousness (although I only skimmed the intro). What he talks about there is what I mean by consciousness, the phenomena of experience.
I agree that the cell phone is self aware. The thing is that "self awareness" has degrees just like intelligence. A calculator has some intelligence, just not very much. An average computer has significantly more, and an average person much more than that. Same with self awareness. An ant and a cell phone both have some self awareness; there is nothing special about being DNA based that gives a magical attribute of "consciousness".
Am I right in inferring that when you say "consciousness" you're referring to the higher level of self awareness by which one is aware of one's own mind and thoughts? If so, even a significant portion of the human population may not be conscious. It seems many of them operate on instinct.
In terms of consciousness in the experiential sense (which I would associate with self-awareness), I would say the phone is not self-aware (of course we both have no direct proof either way; I could say a plastic bag is imbued with a universal consciousness and neither of us could prove or disprove it definitively). Consciousness may have qualitative degrees (I'm sure it does in fact), but that does not mean that we must attribute it to telephones.
Regarding DNA, I do not claim that it is magical, or that DNA alone gives consciousness (although it is at least conceivable); I was merely pointing out that everything so far that we would attribute with consciousness (in the experiential sense) is alive and contains DNA.
As I have said many times, by consciousness I am referring to a subjective experience of being in the world (check out the Chalmers paper [consc.net] for a more thorough description of this). I cannot find any sympathy for your view that "a significant portion of the human population may not be conscious". Operating on instinct in no way rules out an experiential sense of being. I strongly doubt that mobile phones are imbued with a subjective experiential sense of being in reality. If you believe they are, we might have to agree to disagree!