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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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‘Conscious’ Machines and Initiating Interaction

‘Conscious’ Machines and Initiating Interaction

The idea of artificial intelligence refers back to the Turing Test for machine intelligence in 1950, introduced by Alan Turing in his paper ‘Computing Machinery and Intelligence‘, the evaluator ask a question to the computer, the answer might be from a person or might be from a machine, if the evaluator couldn’t tell the difference between the two, the machine was said to have passed the Turing Test. It appears intelligent, but is it conscious? Philosopher John Searle claimed this as the ‘weak AI’ and there is no existence of consciousness (‘The Chinese Room Argument’,1980), computers simulate thought, but there is no real understanding of behind their seeming understanding.

‘The Mechanical Turk’

An 18th-century fake chess-playing machine, which was in fact manipulated by a hidden person inside the machine.


If machines could behave and think like we do, what about architecture? An automobile could be seen as a piece of architecture machine as it forms a sheltered space, so does an umbrella. What could be achieved if high-level artificial intelligence was introduced to architectural entities? Can a piece of architecture initiate active interactions with us based on its genuine understanding of our needs and purposes? And in what way we would perceive such architecture?

If that is the case, will artificial consciousness arise and how ? This leads to the question of what is consciousness and do we really posses consciousness? There is no agreed-upon theory of consciousness yet, we consider ourselves being different from the rest of the world around us, we distinguish human from machines because we have intelligence, feelings and emotions (or ‘consciousness’), can machine also possess those qualities and actually understand the meanings of everything?

“Does a machine have to possess a body like my own and be able to experience personally behaviors like my own in order to share in what we call intelligent behavior? While it may seem absurd, I believe the answer is yes.”Â In order to design intelligent machines to serve our purpose of improving and designing the built environment, the machine should share common understanding of the world with us, we develop knowledge and understandings of the world through interactions between our body and the physical environment, our organs are designed to respond to differently interactions with the context accordingly, in such case, we are also complex machines which belongs to a complex construct that of rules and math that form things, the boundary between human and machine becomes blurred and indistinct( ‘The Extended Mind’ ,Clark, A. Chalmers, D. 1998).

To enable machines to share our experience and feelings, we will need to design the ‘organs’ for the machine which posses same function as ours, or even more evolved, from this hypothesis we could program the machine to accumulate knowledge of the world and learn the meanings through its self-initiated interactions with the environment.

‘Evolved Virtual Creatures’ by Karl Sims

‘The LittleDog Robot’ , University of South California


What is the purpose of making machines that think and behave like us? One could argue that the machine does not necessarily to have consciousness, we could always command the machine to perform tasks followed by our instructions. In my opinion, perhaps we could be benefited from ‘conscious’ machines in helping us understand the world and ourselves better by sharing a common goal, a goal that the machine understands its meaning hence acquired initiative that drives it endeavor to search for the answers, under this hypothesis, I could imagine such machines that are able to carry out creative tasks such as the job of designer, in which the design would be derived from machine’s real understanding of our needs and desires, and probably explore further beyond our imagination.


‘Soft Architecture Machine’, Nicholas Negroponte, The MIT Press, 1975

‘The Extended Mind’ ,Clark, A. Chalmers, D. 1998

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