Institute for Technology Assessment and  Systems Analysis (ITAS)

Clarification of suspicion of consciousness in artificial intelligence (AI consciousness)

Project description

The idea of an “awakening”, self-aware, and conscious artificial intelligence has become increasingly popular in recent years, among others through consumer-friendly AI-based systems such as “Siri” from Apple and “Alexa” as interactive smart speaker, the established robot “Sophia”, and also IBM’s interoperable “Watson”. Renowned AI protagonists speak enthusiastically, admonishingly, or warningly of the potential development of a “superintelligence” which will overshadow anything ever in the world and which will overtake the abilities of mankind.

Within the AI community, the question of so-called “machine consciousness” is not new, but there is little systematic research on this topic. In scientific communities, the mystically charged niche topic involves the risk of damaging the scientific reputation. At the same time, AI research and marketing nurture this mystique through humanizing metaphors that promise a budding consciousness, such as the robot “thinks” or “feels”, the autonomous vehicle is equipped with an “environment perception”, or the smart home “knows” how it can “help” its occupants. In this way, parlances and narratives are built up that disseminate ideas about a “conscious AI” in the public media without relying on scientifically robust evidence. Also, the transdisciplinary dialogue on the question of what truth might lie behind the so-called machine consciousness so far hardly exists.

The project addresses this deficit with the aim of clarifying the rising “awareness of AI” by empirically analyzing existing discourses, bringing together relevant actors across disciplines, identifying open questions and addressing them in accompanying research, developing a common, transdisciplinary understanding, and bringing the results into public discourse.

Project website:


Book Chapters
Gutmann, M.; Haag, M.-C.; Wadephul, C.
Verheißung, Verdammung oder einfach ein Selbstmissverständnis? Sprachkritische Überlegungen zum Umgang mit KI und ihren Beschreibungen.
2021. Künstliche Intelligenz : Die große Verheißung. Hrsg.: A. Strasser, 221–240, xenomoi verlag e.K 
Journal Articles
Heil, R.; Wendland, K.; Wadephul, C.
Robotik und die Zuschreibung von Bewusstsein.
2019. EZW-Texte, (264), 27–35 
Wadephul, C.
Maschinelles Bewusstsein - Science Fiction oder realistisches Szenario?.
2019. Von Technik bis Künstlicher Intelligenz: Geistes- und Sozialwissenschaftliche Perspektiven (2019), Shanghai, China, October 10, 2019 


Prof. Dr. Karsten Wendland
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS)
P.O. Box 3640
76021 Karlsruhe

Tel.: +49 721 608-22648