I believe the theory -- "Global Workspace Theory" -- is currently the leading theory of consciousness, though the field is still very new.
"looks a lot easier"? Please let everyone know when you've got it working!-))
To the best of my knowledge there's no neural network technology available today currently that could be described as providing "raw cognition". Neural nets are for the most part focussed on backpropagation networks, which aren't prevalent in nature. The brain has much more variety in it's architecture.
Gerald M. Edelman has argued that a biological approach based on evolution and biology will prove more fruitful than the physical symbol system hypothesis(PSSH) of "good old-fashioned AI". Edelman explicates his ideas in "Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On the Matter of the Mind":
In that book he clearly states his objections to the PSSH.
There is significant recent work on consciousness, tying it to neuroscience studies of the brain. Bernard J. Baars' explications of Global Workspace theory appear fruitful in leading us toward conscious computing. Right now I'm reading one of Baars' books, "In the Theater of Consciousness: The Workspace of the Mind":
The Galernter article is extremely timely since it mentioned several ideas that clicked into place as I read Baars.
I was surprised to find that Baars is now working at the The Neurosciences Institute which Edelman founded:
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