Investigating Nonhuman Consciousness

December 07


Hosted by the GPH Center for Bioethics and NYU Mind, Ethics, and Policy Program

Humans make many decisions that affect nonhumans without always knowing whether these nonhumans are conscious. Is there a test for nonhuman consciousness that can be useful for impact assessments and policy decisions despite the limitations on our knowledge about other minds? In this panel, Jonathan Birch will present his proposed strategy for investigating invertebrate consciousness and Susan Schneider will present her proposed test for AI consciousness. Birch and Schneider will then discuss the pros and cons of these tests, as well as the similarities and differences between testing for consciousness in these different nonhuman populations.

About the Speakers:
Susan Schneider is William F. Dietrich Distinguished Professor of Philosophy of Mind, Founding Director of the Center for the Future Mind, and Co-director of the Machine Perception and Cognitive Robotics Lab at Florida Atlantic University. Schneider previously held the NASA Chair at NASA and the Distinguished Scholar Chair at the Library of Congress. She also appears frequently on television shows on stations such as PBS and The History Channel, and writes opinion pieces for the New York TimesScientific American, and The Financial Times. Her recent book, Artificial You: AI and the Future of the Mind, discusses the philosophical implications of AI.

Jonathan Birch is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the LSE and Principal Investigator on the Foundations of Animal Sentience project. In 2021, he led a "Review of the Evidence of Sentience in Cephalopod Molluscs and Decapod Crustaceans" that led to invertebrate animals—including octopuses, crabs, and lobsters—being included in the UK government's Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022. In addition to his interest in animal sentience, cognition, and welfare, he also has a longstanding interest in the evolution of altruism and social behavior. His first book, The Philosophy of Social Evolution, was published by Oxford University Press in 2017.