University of Sussex

File(s) under permanent embargo

Virtual machines and consciousness

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-07, 14:03 authored by A. Sloman, Ron ChrisleyRon Chrisley
Replication or even modelling of consciousness in machines requires some clarifications and refinements of our concept of consciousness. Design of, construction of, and interaction with artificial systems can itself assist in this conceptual development. We start with the tentative hypothesis that although the word 'consciousness' has no well-defined meaning, it is used to refer to aspects of human and animal information processing. We then argue that we can enhance our understanding of what these aspects might be by designing and building virtual- machine architectures capturing various features of consciousness. This activity may in turn nurture the development of our concepts of consciousness, showing how an analysis based on information processing virtual machines answers old philosophical puzzles as well enriching empirical theories. This process of developing and testing ideas by developing and testing designs leads to gradual refinement of many of our pre-theoretical concepts of mind, showing how they can be construed as implicitly 'architecture-based' concepts. Understanding how human-like robots with appropriate architectures are likely to feel puzzled about qualia may help us resolve those puzzles. The concept of 'qualia' turns out to be an 'architecture-based' concept, while individual qualia concepts are 'architecture-driven'.


Publication status

  • Published


Journal of Consciousness Studies







Page range


Department affiliated with

  • Informatics Publications


Originality: Most work on consciousness is psychological, neurophysiological or philosophical. This paper develops the foundations for pursuing a computational/AI-based approach. Rigour: Makes distinction between architecture-based and architecture-driven concepts to show how design of virtual machines can solve perennial conceptual problems related to consciousness. Significance: Proposes joint engineering/philosophy methodology that may permit breakthroughs. Hailed as landmark work in entry on "Machine Consciousness" in 2007 "Blackwell Companion to Consciousness"; Google Scholar 19.

Full text available

  • No

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes

Legacy Posted Date


Usage metrics

    University of Sussex (Publications)


    No categories selected