Qualia is a term that describes an individual conscious experience. If you were eating an apple at this very moment then your experience of the taste would be described as a qualia. The term describes the conscious experience of a sensation rather than the beliefs that inform a conscious experience. A person eating an apple tastes and feels the apple, he may believe that apples all taste great but that belief is external to his experience of the qualia. The existence of qualia as a useful and applicable term has been debated by the philosphical community.
American philosopher Thomas Nagel proposed a thought experiment termed "What Is it Like to Be a Bat?". The idea behind this is that there is a way things feel that goes beyond a material experience. A person might be able to imagine what it is like to fly around and live as a bat physically. Yet there is likely a specific feeling to being a bat that is impossible to comprehend from a human perspective.
Another thought experiment put forward by Frank Jackson has a woman that from birth is brought up in a black and white room. This woman is taught everything about colors including how people react to them until she has an absolute knowledge about colors. Then one day she is handed a red object and instantly learns something new despite her absolute theoretical knowledge, she learns how it feels to see a red object. This is her qualia experience of the color red.
Qualia is often seen as presenting a problem for Artificial Intelligence to develop human-like cognition. Human consciousness is often considered to be made with experiences of qualia as a core component. As an artificial intelligence may not be able to experience a qualia at all. One argument is that it is a mistake to consider feelings to be a seperate entity to regular thoughts and beliefs, that a qualia is just a complex arrangement of a person's dispositions upon experiencing something. Therefore an artificial intelligence can plausibly experience a qualia with the correct inputs.
Another perspective accepts that qualia are real and are a major part of human cognition but that it arises from a neurological system that can be modelled computationally. This would allow for an artificial sentience in much the same way that human's experience it.
Still it has to be considered that an artificial sentience may never truly be able to experience qualia as we understand them and therefore never reach a state we would define as conscious.
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