JP: Is the higher consciousness – what philosophers sometimes call “self-consciousness” – a byproduct of HTM?
JH: Yes. I think I understand what consciousness is now. There are two elements to consciousness. First, there is the element of consciousness where we can say, “I am here now.” This is akin to a declarative memory where you can actively recall doing something. Riding a bike cannot be recalled by declarative memory, because I can’t remember how I balanced on a bike. But if I ask, “Am I talking to Jason?” I can answer “Yes.” So I like to propose a thought experiment: if I erase declarative memory, what happens to consciousness?” I think it vanishes.
But there is another element to consciousness: what philosophers and neuroscientists call “qualia:” the feeling of being alive. Qualia mean different things to different people, but the way I like to think about them is to ask, “Why does anything feel like anything?” And I think I understand this a little, too. Qualia have to do with the world itself: I perceive the world in a certain way because that’s the way the world really is.
JP: Is a dolphin conscious?
JH: They’ve got a very highly developed neocortex. I bet they are. The only difference between you and me and dolphins is that they have a very limited motor cortex. They can reason; but they can’t control motor behavior. Imagine! Their perceptual world is probably very rich. But they can’t communicate those perceptions to each other. They have no real language, just songs from deep inside their reptile brain. It’s like they have a robotic body. All they can do is fin through the sea.
JP: Why would Numenta want to build an HTM? After all, there are already billions and billions of human HTMs. We can make billions more from sexual intercourse.
JH: [Laughs.] Well, we wouldn’t use artificial HTMs to do things that humans can already do. But an artificial HTM could do things that humans can’t. We could use them to recognize patterns using exotic sensors. Maybe I could use weather sensors all around the world, and if I fed them into an HTM, it would perceive the weather like you and I perceive that building. HTMs could think in the higher mathematical dimensions or they could see how proteins fold. You could create an entire sensory world of things that humans just have problems seeing and predicting because we just didn’t evolve in the right time-frames or scales. People say, “Jeff you shouldn’t talk about stuff, because people will think you’re crazy,” but I say, I think this stuff is really going to happen.