A EC funded project aimed at improving social competences of virtual agents through artificial consciousness based on the Attention Schema Theory


ASTOUND is part of the EIC Pathfinder Challenge “Awareness Inside”.

Awareness and consciousness have been high on the Artificial Intelligence (AI) research agenda for decades. In the last decade, deep learning algorithms have enabled AI systems to perform a series of tasks, like natural language processing, speech, and image recognition, as well as or better than humans. However, this technology is not sufficient to deliver human-level intelligence without consciousness. Without understanding the subjective awareness element, it may be impossible to build AI that has a human-like ability to focus its computational resources and intelligently control that focus and interact with people in a socially competent manner and progress has been difficult because it has been hard to agree on exactly what it means to be aware.

In response to this challenge, ASTOUND proposes an Integrative Approach for Awareness Engineering to establish consciousness in machines. The approach consists of an AI architecture for Artificial Consciousness based on the Attention Schema Theory (AST), a novel approach to social cognition that reconciles some of the current most debated cognitive neuroscience theories of consciousness. According to the AST, the brain constructs subjective awareness as a schematic model of the process of attention, suggesting that an information-processing machine could attribute consciousness properties to others in a similar way. The AST-based architecture proposed by ASTOUND will combine an Attention Mechanism provided by the attentional layers in a deep neural architecture and a Long-Term Memory module allowing interplay between internal and external stimuli (data) with an Attention Schema that will determine empathic and trustworthy decision-making.

In addition to ASTOUND, seven other projects are part of this EIC Pathfinder thematic portfolio:

CAVAA: Counterfactual Assessment and Valuation for Awareness Architecture.

EMERGE: Emergent Awareness from Minimal Collectives.

METATOOL: A metapredictive model of synthetic awareness for enabling tool invention.

SUSTAIN: Smart Building Sensitive to Daily Sentiment.

SymAware: Symbolic logic framework for situational awareness in mixed autonomy.

SYMBIOTIK: Context-aware adaptive visualizations for critical decision making.

VALAWAI: Value-Aware Artificial Intelligence.

The details about this EIC Pathfinder Challenge and the Project Portfolio Members is available at