What is consciousness and how important is it to intelligence? Can a computer be truly intelligent without also being conscious? If not, then can consciousness be synthesized on a computer or is consciousness something fundamental to the basic structure of the universe, like space, time and energy?
For the sake of discussion, let's define consciousness to mean "the capacity to experience one's own experience." In other words, consciousness is an infinite regress of sorts -- consciousness is by nature self-knowing. Can a computer execute an infinite regress without getting stuck? Humans seem to be able to do this quite easily!
I got interested in consciousness as a college student studying the philosophy of artificial intelligence at Oberlin. Among other things, I spent several years trying to figure out how to design a conscious computer. In the process I read just about everything I could find about consciousness -- both from Western scientists and philosophers, as well as Eastern thinkers. In the end, I came to the conclusion that consciousness is not a formal information process, rather it is something fundamental to the universe, just like space, time, and energy.
A good analogy for this is electricity. Nobody can deny that there is a phenomenon of electricity, but not even our brightest scientists can tell you what electricity really is. This is because electricity is ultimately based on fundamental particles -- and we don't really know what those are. Furthermore, nobody ever really makes electricity -- all they do is channel the electrical potential that is already existing. This is a good example of how I think consciousness operates. I have a hunch that nobody ever creates consciousness, rather it can simply be channeled using the appropriate type of "circuit." So I doubt that we will ever synthesize consciousness in a computer; however, it might be possible to design some sort of machine (or organism) that is capable of channeling consciousness that is already natively present in the universe itself. But we are a long way from that technology -- what would be the consciousness-equivalent of a wire, or a circuit? Perhaps we should look to the East, where there are many thousands of years of study of what consciousness is and how consciousness operates in the human body.