Random thought about the Matrix. Actually something that came up in a seminar I took senior year.

Personally I don’t believe that machines can have consciousness but let’s just assume, like the movie and most watchers of the movie assume, that they can. So Agent Smith for example is a conscious being. Not a human being, but a conscious being nonetheless.

People realize that he’s just software right? He may or may not have a machine host in the real world but it’s not strictly necessary. The thing that’s conscious is purely software. Likewise, those machines that attack the ship at the end of the movie may or may not be conscious. But if they are, it’s determined by software. The thing that is conscious is software.

I find that idea fascinating. That software can be conscious. Because software is just an algorithm. And an algorithm can be written down, not just as bits and code, but on paper. So let’s say you did that. Say you wrote the algorithm for Agent Smith in a big book. Then, is that book conscious?

Most would say no. Hard to argue that a book is conscious and deserves the rights of a being. But what’s the real difference between the book and Agent Smith? The only fundamental thing is that Agent Smith is not just an algorithm, but an algorithm in execution – a running program. But then, is that to say if you were to run the algorithm in the book with pen and paper, like we do with algorithms in CS 161, then the algorithm is conscious? That it’s fully thinking, just like Agent Smith and you and me? Isn’t that utterly bizarre? But if you really buy into pop “AI”, it’s almost an inescapable conclusion.

That’s what Roger Penrose, this mathematician/philosopher guy asks, and it doesn’t have an easy answer. As for me, I think consciousness has something to do with the soul. Lots of things can “think”. Animals think. Machines “think”. Sargon 2000 thinks. Doesn’t mean they’re conscious. You need a soul for that. But no one secular buys the idea of a soul. And that’s why I think you get these philosophical conundrums.

But I dunno, for a long time, with the behaviorists and stuff people (essentially) rejected the notion of consciousness and few people do that anymore so maybe the idea of the soul will come back into vogue. Maybe Adrian will lead the charge.