Use the future to build the present
Consciousness Assessment
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1Quantum Revolution& Advanced AI2HumanAugmentation3Eco-Regeneration& Geo-Engineering4Science& Diplomacy1.11.21.31.42.12.22.32.43.13.23.33.43.54.14.24.34.44.5HIGHEST ANTICIPATIONPOTENTIALAdvancedArtificial IntelligenceQuantumTechnologiesBrain-inspiredComputingBiologicalComputingCognitiveEnhancementHuman Applications of Genetic EngineeringRadical HealthExtensionConsciousnessAugmentation DecarbonisationWorldSimulationFuture FoodSystemsSpaceResourcesOceanStewardshipComplex Systems forSocial EnhancementScience-basedDiplomacyInnovationsin EducationSustainableEconomicsCollaborativeScience Diplomacy
1Quantum Revolution& Advanced AI2HumanAugmentation3Eco-Regeneration& Geo-Engineering4Science& Diplomacy1.11.21.31.42.12.22.32.43.13.23.33.43.54.14.24.34.44.5HIGHEST ANTICIPATIONPOTENTIALAdvancedArtificial IntelligenceQuantumTechnologiesBrain-inspiredComputingBiologicalComputingCognitiveEnhancementHuman Applications of Genetic EngineeringRadical HealthExtensionConsciousnessAugmentation DecarbonisationWorldSimulationFuture FoodSystemsSpaceResourcesOceanStewardshipComplex Systems forSocial EnhancementScience-basedDiplomacyInnovationsin EducationSustainableEconomicsCollaborativeScience Diplomacy

Sub-Field:

2.4.2Consciousness Assessment

It is broadly agreed that consciousness is an emergent property of complex nervous systems. But there is no granular understanding of which circuits are implicated. There is progress here, however. Researchers have developed diagnostic indices based on EEG activity, such as multivariate classifiers8 and EEG reactivity, such as the Perturbational Complexity Index (PCI)9,10, to reliably tell whether someone is in a vegetative state or a (more reversible) minimally conscious state. Therapeutic neuromodulation (precisely targeted noninvasive technology like tDCS) has successfully brought minimally conscious patients back.11 Closed-loop neuromodulation is already able to act on, and sense, brain state based on feedback, though this is limited for now to epilepsy.

If deployed in line with a set of internationally validated guidelines to diagnose the presence or absence of consciousness, in future a combination of these technologies can be standardised to wake people from comas. Such guidelines could also identify areas of interest for probing the neural correlates of consciousness. Chinese Academy of Sciences researchers are looking at neural circuits associated with specific aspects of consciousness — notably self-awareness — in macaque brains.12 Manipulating these parts of the brain may help people with Alzheimer’s, or other disorders of consciousness. An understanding of the circuit basis of consciousness could also help quantify specific aspects lacking, and thereby point to the best intervention, e.g. thalamic stimulation. Such investigations and analysis may help us back into a working definition of consciousness.

Work is underway to determine whether machines and animals have consciousness,13,14 and most recently to understand whether organoids and other synthetic biological organisms are capable of developing a kind of consciousness.15

Future Horizons:

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5-yearhorizon

We become more adept at diagnosing consciousness

Improved brain state diagnostics emerge, using bedside electrophysiological tools to distinguish minimally conscious from vegetative. Some people with specific disorders of consciousness receive brain stimulation to enhance their conscious state. The neural circuit implicated in the mirror test — a key aspect of how we define consciousness — is found in macaques.

10-yearhorizon

The tools to restore consciousness are developed

We have an agreed set of international guidelines (perhaps a standard scale) to diagnose the presence or absence of consciousness. We use non-invasive closed loop neurostimulation like tDCS or focused ultrasound to alter people’s conscious state. Invasive stimulations detect consciousness in locked-in patients and give them ways to communicate using brain machine interfaces. Work to find best practices leads to recovery.

25-yearhorizon

Theories and therapeutics of consciousness become established

Scientifically validated assessment of presence and quality of consciousness in humans, animals and machines begins. An agreed theory of consciousness takes shape. Brain-machine interfaces open up communications with apparently unconscious people, even restoring natural consciousness in some cases.

Consciousness Assessment - Anticipation Scores

How the experts see this field in terms of the expected time to maturity, transformational effect across science and industries, current state of awareness among stakeholders and its possible impact on people, society and the planet. See methodology for more information.

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