Establishing consciousness in non-communicative patients: a modern-day version of the Turing test

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    In a recent study of a patient in a persistent vegetative state, [Owen, A. M., Coleman, M. R., Boly, M., Davis, M. H., Laureys, S., & Pickard, J. D. (2006). Detecting awareness in the vegetative state. Science, 313, 1402] claimed that they had demonstrated the presence of consciousness in this patient. This bold conclusion was based on the isomorphy between brain activity in this patient and a set of conscious control subjects, obtained in various imagery tasks. However, establishing consciousness in unresponsive patients is fraught with methodological and conceptual difficulties. The aim of this paper is to demonstrate that the current debate surrounding consciousness in VS patients has parallels in the artificial intelligence (AI) debate as to whether machines can think. Basically, (Owen et al., 2006) used a method analogous to the Turing test to reveal the presence of consciousness, whereas their adversaries adopted a line of reasoning akin to Searle's Chinese room argument. Highlighting the correspondence between these two debates can help to clarify the issues surrounding consciousness in non-communicative agents. © 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)187-192
    JournalConsciousness and Cognition
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


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