Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Jim Carrey. Three of the greatest impressionists in history. These talented individuals achieved success by observing complex subjects, softening their edges, and creating recognizable copies. Monet could likely explain the fundamental behaviors of the flowers and ponds he painted but would surely fail to comprehend the intricacies of their genetic makeup. Jim Carrey can embody Andy Kaufman but he couldn’t explain the biological functions that allow his voice and body to take on someone else’s persona. These artists know how to take observable behaviors and characteristics and emulate them in such a way that they are immediately and universally recognizable as copies of the real thing while simultaneously taking on their own identity.

That’s exactly how we tackle the issue of understanding consciousness as a means to conscious AI. Most modern AI solutions attempt to simulate the inner workings of the human brain. This method falls short of its end goal because we can’t fully simulate something we don’t fully understand. We can recreate portions of the brain’s architecture to exact specifications while other portions are still quite mysterious.

Rather than attempt to simulate unknown processes, a winning strategy may be to build known modular functions in an environment that allows consciousness to emerge. After all, consciousness cannot be reduced to a set of elemental properties. It is an emergent feature of a complex system. Building such environments is a much easier task than trying to figure out the details of a system that produces consciousness. From there, perhaps we can ethically experiment with that consciousness to understand how our consciousness works.

If you go the route of simulation, at best you’ve made an exact copy of something that already exists with paths and processes just as difficult to explain as those in the human brain. Whereas emulation may appear as an exact copy but pull back the curtain, and you can explain why and how every element does what it does. In the same way that artistic impressionism gives us a new perspective or interpretation of something that exists in reality, emulation of consciousness allows plenty of room for evolution and exploration toward achieving conscious AI.