Whether Robots are Conscious or Not?


The robot is defined as a man-made electromechanical machine that works on a set of pre-programmed instructions from humans or computers to do some specific job or a variety of jobs on its own. Robots are devices that mimic human or animal characteristics in performing the specified jobs and are considered to possess virtual intelligence.

Robotics is a fast-growing engineering division, and scientists believe that robots are going to change the everyday lives of people. A wide variety of areas involving high-risk jobs and normal household jobs are soon going to be occupied by robots.

Jobs classified as highly dangerous and relatively dirty for normal human beings to do are now being delegated to robots. ASIMO – the robot made by Honda is considered to be the most advanced humanoid made on earth with several recognition properties like speech, voice, and face. With the advancement in science and technology, robots are becoming more specialized and efficient than human beings in many areas.

Max Rudolf Frisch, the famous Swiss architect, and novelist says in his novel ‘Homo Faber’: “The machine has no feelings; it feels no fear and no hope… it operates according to the pure logic of probability. For this reason, I assert that the robot perceives more accurately than man” (Frisch, n.d., para.10). Robots are assisting men in domestic duties, nursing, medical care, security, etc.

With this increasing participation of robots in people’s lives, we will be compelled to know whether robots are intelligent or not. Numerous debates take place between philosophers; scientists specialized in cognitive sciences and psychologists on whether robots as machines can think or whether robots have Consciousness.

The question is relevant in this era where humans depend more and more on robots and are ready to accept the concept of robots with intelligence and Consciousness.

But, robots are neither conscious nor intelligent.

Significance of the study

The significance of this paper is to examine whether robots have Consciousness or intelligence. Robots have the ability to interact with the environment in which they work and have decision-making capabilities. These factors can make us think whether robots may replace human beings in this world. It is a worry for many whether robots may demand space for their existence.

The proof of this paper will surely be some relaxation to people who think robots can take over human beings. Of course, there are some areas where robots are highly efficient and have the upper hand when compared to humans, especially in areas like space research, which demands extreme conditions where it is impossible for human beings to survive.

Also, human beings can never become as efficient as robots in such functionality displayed by robots. All these have brought about disambiguation among people who believe that robots have Consciousness. This study shows how it is possible for robots to “think” and “act” like humans and proves that robots are not really conscious.

Plan of organization

The paper explores what Consciousness in the human term is. It compares human thinking with machine thinking, if machines have any. Previous researches and papers published on robots and their intelligence are reviewed and compared to get a clear picture of whether robots have Consciousness and to arrive at a final conclusion.

The paper examines the strengths and weaknesses of the positive and negative arguments that arose on the issue. The paper also states the relevance of the paper when applied to the Arab world and the Gulf countries.

Interesting perspective

In his paper “Consciousness in Human and Robot minds,” Daniel Dennett from the Centre for Cognitive Studies, Tuft University says that there will be a day when robots can become conscious. The reasoning given by him is that human beings are also in some sort, robots.

“That is, we are extraordinarily complex self-controlling, self-sustaining physical mechanisms, designed over the eons by natural selection, and operating according to the same well-understood principles that govern all the other physical processes in living things: digestive and metabolic processes, self-repair and reproductive processes, for instance.

It may be wildly over-ambitious to suppose that human artificers can repeat Nature’s triumph, with variations in material, form, and design process, but this is not a deep objection” (Dennett, 1994, para.1). But he also says that it is just his mundane skepticism, and the theory is supported by his reasoning only and not by valid proof.

He tries to prove that there is a chance that robots can be conscious, but the proofs provided are not strong enough. In fact, those statements will really help in proving that robots are not conscious.

Argumentative Thesis Statement

Robots are just machines programmed to work according to human needs to satisfy or help humans in several jobs and do not possess intelligence or Consciousness. Programmed electro-mechanical machines can never have Consciousness as human beings or other living organisms have.

Robots work only according to the information set as programmed by humans in them and can never think or have intuitions as humans have. They work on a set of statistics and probability fed to them and do not have feelings or intelligence like living beings have.

Arguments and Proofs

To understand and analyze whether robots have Consciousness, one has first to understand what Consciousness is. In the book, Consciousness – a very short introduction by Susan Blackmore, she has tried to define Consciousness, though it is not very accurate.

According to her: “‘What it’s like to be…’: If there is something it is like to be an animal (or computer, or baby) then that thing is conscious. Otherwise it is not. Subjectivity or phenomenality: Consciousness means subjective experience or phenomenal experience. This is the way things seem to me, as opposed to how they are objectively.

Qualia: The ineffable subjective qualities of experience, such as the redness of red or the indescribable smell of turpentine.” (Blackmore, 2005, p.7). What she means is that Consciousness is something that we can feel to be like. We can feel to be like another animal or a bird or an insect. But we can’t feel to be a cup or a computer or a machine. It is similar to robots also. We cannot assume or feel how being a robot is. They are just machines which work according to our instructions and do not have feelings.

“Consciousness involves awareness, both of what is going around us and what is going on inside our minds, self awareness” (Levy, 2006, p.369, chap.12). The way we respond to the aroma of a cup of coffee or the wagging of the tail of our pet dog is caused by our Consciousness, i.e., our self-awareness as well as of what is going around us.

Robots cannot distinguish the way one person feels about the aroma of a cup of coffee. They cannot have “qualia” as humans, or other living beings are believed to have. They are purely material artifacts.

A strong argument against robots having Consciousness is that they are purely mechanical and inorganic. Consciousness is present only inorganic substances. “Inorganic substances are ‘purely mechanical,’ whereas organic systems exhibit patterns of organization that ‘purely mechanical’ system lack.

I.e., they exhibit an ability to reproduce the physical substratum needed to maintain a form or pattern of activity, and to shape and replace elements of their substratum according to whether those elements serve well as substrata for the form of activity that is being maintained” (Ellis, 1995, p.181).

More valid arguments that support the thesis are that robots cannot have desires like humans and other living beings have, which is purely a conscious driven act. Also, robots cannot reproduce on their own. This is, however, a weak argument because there are human beings also cannot reproduce on their own.

A negative argument against this thesis is that with the advancement in artificial intelligence and computer science, robots will become more complicated than the present ones and can have Consciousness. Also, some scientists worldwide have called on for making a robot ethics charters. “In March, South Korea provided a sneak peek at its “Robot Ethics Charter” slated for release later in 2007.

The charter envisioned a near future wherein humans might run the risk of becoming emotionally dependent on or addicted to their robots” (Billings, 2009, para.1). But this is baseless. All these arguments were proposed when television and computer were introduced, and yet it has not proved that those will overtake humans from this world. Humans have known very well to control their machines, and so will be the case of robots also.

Robots respond only to previously processed and assimilated functions. New or relatively odd situations cannot be handled by them as humans, or living beings with Consciousness do. This shows that although robots can process more maths and logic than human beings, it can never behave in a way as humans do with emotions and counter emotions.

The relevance of robots and their Consciousness in the Arab world or the Gulf countries are mainly in warfare and not particularly in changing their everyday lives.

“When U.S. forces went into Iraq, the original invasion had no robotic systems on the ground. By the end of 2004, there were 150 robots on the ground in Iraq; a year later there were 2,400; by the end of 2008, there were about 12,000 robots of nearly two dozen varieties operating on the ground in Iraq.

As one retired Army officer put it, the “Army of the Grand Robotic” is taking shape” (Singer, 2009, para.5). Also robots are deployed more into air, sea and land warfare. This is not because they have Consciousness, but because they can cause fewer mortality rates than old-time wars and is better in using new technologies in warcraft. All these robots are human-controlled and do not possess Consciousness.

The Arab world’s most advanced robot, “Reem B, a 1.5m tall, 60kg robot, could help humans perform everyday tasks or care for the sick and elderly, its developer, Abu Dhabi-based PAL Technology, told UAE daily The National” (Ferris-Lay, 2008, para.1).

The robot is mainly made to assist humans in sophisticated tasks. After it was revealed, many people feared that the robot might have Consciousness. Reem B has many highly sophisticated capabilities like long battery life, voice recognition, face recognition, map its environment, avoid obstacles in its path and climb stairs.

It can also lift up to twelve kilograms of weight. But studies show that “Reem B, for all its wonder, didn’t show signs of real thought or intelligence. Instead, it was an amalgamation of clever tricks” (Francis, 2008, para.3).


An online survey was conducted among twenty people to understand their stand on the thesis argument. They were asked ten questions based on robots and Consciousness.

The questions were:

Can Consciousness be clearly defined?

Do all living beings possess Consciousness?

Do robots have Consciousness?

Justify your answer to the question above

Are our present-day robots complicated enough to have Consciousness?

Is artificial intelligence making more intelligent robots or not?

Will robots out power human beings?

Are human beings addicted to robots?

Should the development of robots be stopped?

Can robots process emotions like humans?

The answers received from all the twenty people varied a lot.

Most people suggested that Consciousness cannot be clearly defined. It can be a physical or mental process that is taking place inside the body. Some people suggested that Consciousness is purely a mental procedure and does not occupy any physical entity in our body. Some pointed out various books and literature which give a definition of Consciousness.

Almost all of them agreed that all living beings have Consciousness, and nonliving beings do not possess and cannot possess Consciousness.

About Consciousness in robots, some people had doubts about whether they possess Consciousness or not. Justification on their answer was more or less similar to the arguments made in this paper. People who said robots have Consciousness linked robotic Consciousness to the advancement of artificial intelligence. Some people even commented that robots do not have Consciousness because they cannot dream.

Some people agree that present-day robots like ASIMO, Honda’s robot are complicated enough to have a high degree of intelligence, but the question of Consciousness is not clear.

On AI and its influence on robotics, many agreed that AI could contribute to more developed robots. But none agreed to the fact that robots can out power humans or that humans are addicted to robots.

Also, though developers say that robots can process emotions, people in the survey do not think so. They also agree in saying that the development of robots should not be stopped, but care should be taken to control them properly, and a code of ethics should be drawn to prevent them from being harmful to live beings.


This paper examines whether robots are conscious or not. It has proved that robots are just machines programmed to work according to human needs to satisfy or help humans in several jobs and do not possess intelligence or Consciousness.

Programmed electro-mechanical machines can never have Consciousness as human beings or other living organisms have. This proof is relevant in the present world in the sense that robots will never out power humans and humans are not dependant on robots.

Robots are made to and can only be an aid for humans in sophisticated activities and cannot really possess Consciousness. The more in-depth study on the advancement of Artificial Intelligence has to be considered for further research on this subject.

Reference List

Billings. L (2007, July 16). Grappling with the implications of an artificially intelligent culture: .

Blackmore, S. (2005). Consciousness: A short introduction: Defining consciousness. Oxford University Press.

Dennett, D C. (1994). Consciousness in human and robot minds: Good and bad grounds for skepticism.

Ellis, R D. (1995). Questioning consciousness: The interplay of imagery, cognition, and emotion in the human brain. John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Ferris-Lay, C. (2008, June 12). Arab world’s most advanced robot unveiled. Arabian Business.com.

Francis, D. (2008, June 15). Rise of the machines. Arabian Business.com.

Frisch, M. (n.d.). : Homo faber: A report. Notable Quotes.

Levy, D N L. (2006). Robots unlimited: Life in a virtual age: Robot consciousness. A K Peter’s, Ltd.

Singer, P W. (2009). Military robots and the laws of war. Brookings.

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