The Twelve Varieties of Consciousness
A proposed empirical scale of consciousness from dead to superhuman.
By George Musser

I have an essay in Aeon magazine on the possibility that machines might become conscious without our realizing it and possible ways to test for that. A huge variety of physiological and behavioral tests of consciousness might be adapted to machines, and Spanish AI researcher Raúl Arrabales Moreno and his colleagues have systematized them as a 12-level scale of consciousness. They have an online calculator that you can use to rank putative conscious beings.

Level Explanation Animal Example Human Age Equivalent Machine Example
–1 Disembodied Blends into environment Molecule
0 Isolated Has a body, but no functions Inert chromosome Stuffed animal
1 Decontrolled Has sensors and actuators, but is inactive Corpse Powered-down computer
2 Reactive Has fixed responses Virus Embryo to 1 month ELIZA
3 Adaptive Learns new reactions Earthworm 1–4 months Smart thermostat
4 Attentional Focuses selectively, learns by trial-and-error, and
forms positive and negative associations (primitive emotions)
Fish 4–8 months CRONOS robot
5 Executive Selects goals, acts to achieve them, and assesses
its own condition
Octupus 8–12 months Cog
6 Emotional Has a range of emotions, body schema, and minimal
theory of mind
Monkey 12–18 months Haikonen architecture (partly implemented by XCR-1
7 Self-Conscious Knows that it knows (higher-order thought) and
passes the mirror test
Magpie 18–24 months Nexus-6 (Do Androids Dream of
Electric Sheep?
8 Empathic Conceives of others as selves and adjusts how it
presents itself
Chimpanzee 2–7 years HAL 9000 (2001)
9 Social Has full theory of mind, talks, and can lie Human 7–11 years Ava (Ex Machina)
10 Human Passes the Turing Test and creates cumulative
Human 12+ years Six (Battlestar Galactica)
11 Super-Conscious Coordinates multiple streams of consciousness Bene Gesserit (Dune) augmented Samantha (Her)

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