In 1979, a cult book by Douglas Hofstadter explored consciousness via a mathematical idea found in art and music. Now, in the AI revolution, that concept could solve a vital question
This year is the 40th anniversary of the publication of one of the cult books of my generation: Gödel Escher Bach by Douglas Hofstadter. This Pulitzer prize-winning tome was essential reading in the 1980s for emerging geeks like me. But, despite its name, it is not a book about the composer Bach, the artist Escher or even the mathematician Kurt Gödel. It is about consciousness and Hofstadter’s belief that this elusive concept is related to the idea of what he calls “a strange loop”.
To celebrate the anniversary, I am staging a triptych of events at the Barbican in London called Strange Loops, looking at the impact of technology on what it means to be human. I believe that the ideas in the book are now more relevant than at any point over the past four decades. The strange-loop concept may be the key to understanding when and whether the fast-evolving AIs we are creating might become conscious.