Can Robots Have Consciousness?
From a Buddhist perspective, yes they can.
If we regard consciousness as the ‘be-all and end-all’, then we have a very limited view of ourselves. If we are using the word ‘consciousness’ to mean ‘aware’ then yes, robot machines can be aware: they can be conscious – although, this is not empty awareness, pure awareness. In Buddhism, consciousness is not regarded as the ultimate state of being, as it is a changeable state.
The use of words and the context in which they are set is of paramount importance, because we can be easily deceived, misunderstand and become confused. Our limited view of our true potential is constantly being demoted through the media; “Live the dream!” When we adhere mechanically to learned definitions, this can obscure actual experience. Word have many meanings and can only hint at genuine experience.
From a Buddhist point of view, the body and mind are controlled by eight consciousnesses, five of the input senses and three of mind: perception, memory and judgement. Perception, memory and judgement become the vehicles for setting the pattern of behaviour, which is our personality – our type of programme. We all fall into types – we only think we are individuals, whereas we are individuals only when we realise our origin: then we are original!
Most humans function on quite a mechanical level. Few know the full potential of humanity, which to realise our true nature of empty essence, cognisant nature and unlimited empathetic compassion, which is unconditional love.
A machine can only mimic these qualities. On observation, when we function mechanically in order to merely exist, we become robotic and are unable to help ourselves: for instance, narcissists lack empathy, manipulate and need constant admiration.
Robots mimic mechanical human behaviour. The point of robots is to replace humans as they can process information faster without taking tea breaks. The question is, for whose benefit?
Machines cannot have understanding, empathy, compassion or love. They can only appear to understand, be empathetic, show compassion and love. Again, this is the characteristic of most humans; we appear to be caring.
“I think, therefore I am” is not realisation of reality. Realisation of reality is knowing the knower does not exist. A machine would ‘blow its circuits’ with this unanswerable conundrum. The same process would also blow a human’s circuits, with the realisation that there is no knower but merely knowing…that is the path to enlightenment!
A machine cannot understand the shock of crazy wisdom. It cannot become enlightened, thereby realising its true nature – and neither can an ignorant human.
But enlightenment remains our true potential.