Imagine you undergo a procedure in which every neuron in your brain is gradually replaced by functionally-equivalent electronic components. Let’s say the replacement occurs a single neuron at a time, and that behaviorally, nothing about you changes. From the outside, you are still “you,” even to your closest friends and loved ones.
What would happen to your consciousness? Would it incrementally disappear, one neuron at a time? Would it suddenly blink out of existence after the replacement of some consciousness-critical particle in your posterior cortex? Or would you simply remain you, fully aware of your lived experience and sentience (and either pleased or horrified that your mind could theoretically be preserved forever)?
This famous consciousness thought experiment, proposed by the philosopher David Chalmers in his 1995 paper Absent Qualia, Fading Qualia, Dancing Qualia, raises just about every salient question there is in the debate surrounding the possibility of consciousness in artificial intelligence.
If the prospect of understanding the origins of our own consciousness and that of other species is, as every single person studying it will tell you, daunting, then replicating it in machines is ambitious to an absurd degree.
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