Challenges for a Humanoid Robot

The Star Wars character C3PO is so convincingly depicted that we may have to remind ourselves that there was no real robot behind the elegant mannequin. The passage of time has not remedied this deficiency; nor, alas, have I a blueprint to offer. I do believe, however, that it will repay us to identify some attributes a robot would need in order to count as humanoid. By clearly distinguishing among such features, and considering what our attitudes toward such a device might be, we can enrich our understanding of what it is to be human.

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Does Consciousness Outstrip Sensation?

Pretty much everyone agrees that some activities in the brain are never conscious. For example, it would be hard to find researches who think there can be conscious events in the cerebellum. Most researchers nowadays also deny that there can be conscious events in subcortical structures, though there is an occasional plea for the thalamus or the reticular formation. But what about the neocortex? Is any activity in that folded carapace a candidate for conscious experience? Does each cortical neuron vie for the conscious spotlight, like the contestants on a televised talent show?

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The Scope of Human Thought

Biologically, we resemble other animals, but mentally, we leave them in the dust. The scope of human thought is vast. Why are we so different?

Animals—including us—live, think, and feel in the here and now. Living, thinking, and feeling are biological events, existing only in the present. When we think about the past or the

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