​Beyond the Turing Test: A Principled Approach for Assessing Consciousness and Intelligence in the Natural and Artificial World

  • TWCF Number:


  • Project Duration:

    December 28, 2017 - December 27, 2020

  • Core Funding Area:

    Big Questions

  • Priority:

    Diverse Intelligences

  • Region:

    North America

  • Amount Awarded:


Director: Giulio Tononi

Institution: Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System

When Alan Turing proposed his machine-based variation on the imitation game in 1950, he believed that computers would ultimately be able to behave indistinguishably from intelligent humans. Now, thanks to explosive improvements in artificial intelligence (AI) made possible by fast computers and deep learning algorithms, computers are close to achieving what many believe to be functional equivalence to humans. Indeed, according to the dominant functionalist paradigm, when computers become functionally equivalent to us, their minds will be equal to ours, too, and they will be conscious.

Until now, consciousness and intelligence have been synonymous. This project aims to explore the differences between the two terms. If intelligence entails using information to inform behavior, to be conscious means that there is “something it is like” to be human—to experience a rich world of sights and sounds, feelings, and thoughts. Consciousness is fundamentally important: if we lose consciousness, as happens in dreamless sleep or during general anesthesia, then from our perspective, both ourselves and the world around us might as well not exist.

What makes us human is not what we do, but what we are, and this project will put the distinction between consciousness and intelligence on a rigorous scientific footing by employing Integrated Information Theory (IIT). IIT is a quantitative theory that spells out what consciousness is, what it takes to have it, and how it can be measured—specifically, by assessing a system’s integrated information (Φ). According to IIT, certain parts of our brains are built in a way that supports high levels of Φ, which is required for being conscious. Machines employing AI algorithms are built in a radically different way that does not support the intrinsic integration of information, hence they cannot be conscious.

Using the framework of IIT, the project will:

  • develop tools that can be used to characterize consciousness;
  • use these tools to investigate what it takes to have consciousness and, specifically, why only certain parts of our brain are equipped to do so;
  • show that consciousness can be dissociated from intelligent behavior;
  • establish that computers may become like or better than us with respect to intelligence, but not with respect to consciousness.


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