Consciousness: A Planner Evaluating Plans?

written by Onne Gorter on 2016/10/14

My previous post was about how, from a computer science perspective, a brain might evolve. Persisting and predicting inputs, and how that can lead to a model of the world and making plans.

And perhaps consciousness is constantly having and judging plans, based on a memory of past input, past actions and past plans. Pattern matching on that memory and the predictions. And learning based on expectations, reward, pain and surprise.

So below is Joey, a tiny little robot in a square world. He thinks and learns by doing exactly those things in the simplest possible way. Think twice before you close this page, you might hurt his feelings!

And so I wonder, if you run algorithms like Joey's on a computer, would that feel like something to the running program?

Something in us feels conscious. Is that not just a certain way of information processing? Maybe when the elements the program makes plans about are not just elements found in its world. But include abstract elements like plans, hope, goals, rewards and the planner itself. That would require a lot more pattern recognition, labelling and reasoning than this tiny example. But maybe that would feel like something to the running program.

Don't feel bad when you close this page, Joey experiences no pain, nor do his plans include anything other than world based elements. He really is not conscious.


You can find the source for Joey on github. The type of learning he does is a variant of reinforcement based learning.

Joey keeps a list of past states and past actions. When he receives a reward, he looks back in his memory, and finds the shortest plan that he does not already have, and adds that to his repertoire. Plans that lead to rewards are scored high. Plans that lead to surprise are demoted and sometimes removed.

The graphic shows you if Joey is wandering or has a plan and what that plan is. It also shows some info like how many plans he has in his repertoire. And it shows his eyes, which look to the front left, front and front right of him.

Joey's inner workings.

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