I was reading an article on Integrated Information Theory of Consciousness in the latest edition of Philosophy Now.

The article says:

IIT has radical implications. If IIT is true, we could in principle build a ‘consciousness-meter’ that tells us whether any system is conscious, and to what level: from comatose patients to infants; from simple animals and plants to robots and next generation AI.

But I'm having a hard time understanding how IIT is falsifiable as a theory and in what way IIT solves the problem of other minds in a such a way that we could demonstrate that e.g. robots are conscious, intelligent agents.

Anyone knows how IIT can be put to the test to answer these kind of questions?

  • Wikipedia gives a somewhat more serious description of IIT, with mathematical formalization and comments on experimental work:"IIT can be used to explain why some brain regions, such as the cerebellum do not appear to contribute to consciousness, despite their size and/or functional importance. IIT can also help to explain why severing the corpus callosum appears to lead to the development of two separate consciousnesses in split-brain patients." – Conifold Aug 15 '17 at 3:45
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    You're right, it doesn't solve the 'other minds' problem. Nor does it begin by proving the reality of consciousness, which it takes for granted. It will always be impossible to prove that a robot is conscious, unless we cheat and redefine consciousness as something we can measure, a popular but philosophically hopeless approach. . – PeterJ Aug 15 '17 at 9:27
  • @PeterJ, in this sense we can't even measure selves consciousness, do we? If we do then why can't we measure robots' consciousness? – rus9384 Mar 31 '18 at 16:05
  • We can't measure it. There is no empirical method for detecting consciousness. It can only be inferred in other beings. – PeterJ Apr 1 '18 at 11:50
  • So whatever conclusions we derive from this, irrespective of their scientific value, won’t solve the problem of zombies and we’ll be subject to the traditional problems of induction that have always characterized scientific theories. Yet, I’m intrigued by what value can the theory have if we can’t answer such fundamental questions. – Edwin Dalorzo Apr 1 '18 at 13:08

IIT is a proposal to explicate the concept of consciousness by information theory. More precisely, by a mathematical formalization and a prescript how to determine the degree of consciousness of an information system.

In a survey article, "Reggia, JA: The rise of machine consciousness: studying consciousness with computational models." (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23597599) compares four current approaches to study consciousness with a computational model. In characterizing IIT he writes:

The basic idea is that the shared or mutual information among brain regions that is above and beyond their information content as individual regions enables them to interact in a constructive fashion. This information integration is viewed as a neural correlate of consciousness.

Like for any scientific theory, falsification or confirmation of the theory depends on comparing its consequences with observable facts. Here Regia comments on IIT:

On the practical side, a major barrier to advancement in this area is that one cannot apply φ directly to neural networks of appreciable size. Further, a φ value alone does not really provide a meaningful indication of whether consciousness is present or not: without a golden standard such as the φ value for a typical human brain to use as a comparison, it is extremely difficult to interpret what any given value of φ actually means (Gamez, 2010). Such a measurement for real brains is currently out of reach, not only because of the size of the networks involved but also because our inability to precisely characterize the detailed neural circuitry of the brain.

I can send you Reggia's full paper on request.

  • Very interesting. However, in the quote you present from this paper you highlight why scientists believe measuring consciousness is a difficult problem, but it is not yet clear to me what they’re actually measuring in IIT such that their scientific theory may be falsifiable. – Edwin Dalorzo Apr 1 '18 at 13:02
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    The theory proposes a definition of φ and an algorithm to compute its value for a given information system. As an example of the test one has to check: To which degree does the computed φ-value match the degree of consciousness which is in general attributed to the given system. Note that several coherent definitions of consciousness exist, which are independent from IIT. – Jo Wehler Apr 1 '18 at 17:10

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