Intent is the manifestation of an idea. Intent is what will happen when that idea occurs in reality, whether or not it has occurred yet. The intent can also be manifested before the event happens, such as a prediction about something happening later on, if one observes enough data points to make a good guess at how things are likely to occur.
This is a good theory of how intent works. But it still doesn't really explain what the physical mechanism for intention is. What happens in reality, to manifest that idea? Because there must be something else going on besides just some ideas being manifested.
I'll tell you what it is. It's not a thing, it's an event - the act of manifestation itself. What happens is that the idea in question begins to affect reality directly, and through observation one can see how that idea affects reality.
So the idea is like a seed, and when it manifests in this way it begins to affect reality. If we were talking about an idea for something that already exists, such as how life on a planet evolves over time, then there would be no need for intent.
But if we are talking about something that doesn't exist yet, such as a business or some other organization of people, then the intent is like a seed for this thing to grow. The idea itself represents the future state of reality - what things will be like when this new entity exists.
First off, let's consider the general case. Intention is a human construct that covers many different situations and scenarios. To better understand intention I will break it down into three specific cases which are:
The case where someone has clearly stated their intentions to do something, and then did it (mentally). The case where they have not said anything about doing something or claimed that they would do something but actually did it anyway (possibly physically). And finally the third possible situation is when you claim you would do a certain action but in reality don't intend on carrying out your original statement at all.
The first case (which is the easiest to understand) consists of two parts. The first part consists of the person's intention originating from their own thoughts and words, which are acted upon by them later on to produce a certain desired outcome.
The second part of the first case is when a person's intention originates from their own thoughts and words, but they never carry it out themselves (or at least not in any physical sense).
The second case is much more complicated than the first, but to truly understand it we must know two things. The first thing that must be known is what a person's intentions are in the general sense. So let us consider this: What exactly is a person's intention? Well, their intention can be understood as stating how they wish for something to happen or how they want an outcome of some kind.
The second thing that must be known is how a person's intention changes over time. So let us consider this: How does a person's intentions change? Well, their intentions are constantly changing and evolving as they become more experienced in life.
So now that we know what a person's intention is and how it changes over time, let us consider the second case. In this case we have two potential outcomes for any given action. The first outcome is when someone carries out their original intention which they stated to themselves or another person about doing something.
Our brains have been wired to allow us to sense our environment and think about it. This is useful for humans, who are often in need of problem solving. Problem solving requires information and the brain gathers this information by using its senses.
On a larger scale, we might say that intention has evolved as an adaptation; because it increases fitness within an environment where there is competition over resources.
Humans have a tendency to think about the world in terms of morality, which is why people wonder if a machine can function with moral values. I will note here that humans often conflate intention and morality when they should be considering them separately.
Morality is a way for humans to solve problems that are difficult. It's essentially a method of deciding how to behave when there is no right answer; should I steal, lie or murder? Morality allows us to judge the behavior of other people in relation to our own, and decide who we want as allies and friends.
There is no reason to believe that moral values are anything more than a useful way for us to get along in the environment we live in. Morality can be considered adaptive if it increases fitness within an environment; meaning, its purpose is to increase one's own survival and prosperity.
Intention is different. It is the ability to make purposeful decisions and act on them in order to achieve one's goals.
Intention is something a machine could possess, for sure. It's not necessarily the same as morality, and it doesn't even have to be moral by our standards.
Intentions exist as a result of human minds, and the way they direct behaviour. To determine if humans have intentions we must first examine this concept.
Behaviour is a result of an accumulation of states over time, and so intention can be seen to be present when the end states are directed towards a particular goal. So if you want to get from A to B, then your behaviour will move you in this direction.
The key to this is having the end state in mind, and then working back from it.
So for example - you want to go to work. You may not know the route there, but if your goal is "To get to work" then that would manifest itself in behaviour which helps you towards this end; i.e. leaving the house and getting into car.
If this was a human, there is no doubt that they have an intention to go to work. By determining the goal and then working back from it we can see that their behaviour is directed towards this.
Could a robot have the same intention? I believe so. If the goal was programmed into them then they would perform behaviour that would bring them closer to this end. They may not know how to get there, but they would be in constant pursuit of it.
The issue of intention is interesting. Imagine a human has just been shot at point blank range by an villainous antagonist as they are about to kiss their loved one in a romantic gesture, and then the bullet miraculously turns into flowers that fall down upon them from above, but not close enough to hurt them. In this example we can see that there is no real change in the event itself; it's merely how you interpret the event which matters. The same goes for moral responsibility: it does not really matter what you do so long as you think your intentions were good or benevolent.
I will now attempt to give a general explanation as to how intention works in the human world and why there is no such thing as evil. It may be that you find my answer shocking.
The human world is a game. A complex, elegant, interesting game of strategy and conflict played out upon the chessboard that is existence itself. The players are all different types of consciousness who strive to win this game in different ways.
The rules of the game are to be found in a book. This book is known as The Universe, which contains all the rules that govern human existence and how it works. It is not to be confused with God, for they are very different things.
This book states that if you wish to win the game, you must play by its rules. It also says that good intentions are what matter most when playing this game.
When you enter the game, you are given a set of rules which govern your character's actions. These rules define your intentions and how they will be interpreted by others who interact with you in this game.