What is consciousness? There are some real challenges in setting up consciousness as a goal, because we don't have that much scientific understanding yet of how the brain does it or what balance there needs to be between long-term memory, short-term memory, the implicit work of interpretation, the contrasting conscious modes of automatic processing and deliberate processing (Khanemann's S1 and S2). John Kihlstrom (psychology emeritus at Berkeley) has a lecture set on Consciousness available in iTunesU that you might check out. Carnegie-Mellon Uni has a model called ACT-R which directly models conscious behaviours like attention-paying.
What might bound our understanding of it? Philosophy has been considering the question of consciousness for a long time. Personally I like Hegel and Heidegger (philosophers). Both are very difficult to read, but Heidegger (interpreted by Hubert Dreyfus) usefully critiqued the 'Good Old-Fashioned AI' projects of the seventies and pointed out how much work there is just interpreting a visual input. Hegel is often maligned, but to see him well interpreted, check out Robert Brandom's talks to LMU on the logic of consciousness and Hegel as an early Sellers-ian pragmatist. If consciousness is to take hold of the truth and the certainty, it undertakes 'a path of doubt, or more properly a highway of despair', along which it never sets itself above correction. There is something about Hegel's treatment of consciousness in recursive terms, without succumbing to a vicious regress, that I think is going to be borne out before the end.
Recent developments. The Deep Learning approaches and pragmatic successes of the present are exciting, but it will be interesting to see how far they can go in integrating and generalising from necessarily the small information sets actual human minds are exposed to. While Deep Learning and data mining are hugely visible, symbolic approaches are also out there still getting better and more varied. But there is a lack of overarching theoretical interpretation that would allow generalisations.
Two big-theory toe-holds. If I had to pick a project I thought worth attending to, Giulio Tononi (et al) have set up a very nice modernisation of the problem in 'Integrated Information Theory' But you might want to extend that with something like Rolf Pfeifer's 'How the body shapes the way we think', because some of the 'integrated information' is implicit in having arms and legs, eyes and nose (put there by the information accumulating work of evolution.) But there's so much good work that has been done - the pros are writing papers faster than I can read them.
More specific to your question, there are attempts to simulate human brains hoping that overall aim will help fund research and produce answers to each para above.