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ETpro's avatar

Believers in the human soul, would you still believe in a separate, supernatural soul if an AI becomes self aware?

Asked by ETpro (34480points) April 24th, 2010

Feel free to contribute whether you believe in supernatural souls or not; Here is the full question:

Suppose that as AIs progress, machines increasingly seem capable of some level of “thinking”. One certainly would not say a toilet float-valve thinks. It maintains the water level in the tank rather accurately, but it doesn’t “care” about doing that. Nor does a thermostat “care” if the house is too hot or too cold. It slavishly strives to keep the house at the temperature it is set to maintain, even if that temperature is ridiculously hot or cold. My desktop computer does some wondrous things, but thinking at even the most rudimentary level is simply not among its mastered tricks.

But looking at animals, we see a slow progression toward thought. The more complex single cell animals avoid certain threats, and approach food. But nobody would call that thought. They do not even have a brain. Mosquitoes do have a brain, albeit a very small one. They sense stimuli around them to try to avoid getting swatted and to try to suck blood. But if any of their activities approach thought, it is indeed a remote approach. However, as we get up to animals such as cats and dogs, some “thinking” does seem to go on. Some of our primate cousins can clearly think, can solve puzzles, figure out ways to communicate and use creative thinking to solve problems.

So it may be reasonably to expect that as machines progress in capability beyond desktop computers to supercomputers, and eventually vast 100 trillion node neural networks, they may show ever greater levels of “thinking”. A machine will come along that learns ever more, that can form an ever-expanding set of associations and build analogies and categories for concepts it learns, and can draw on any and all the associations it has learned to build new associations and categories. At some point, we will talk with a machine and realize if is no longer a Machine “that” Thinks but a Machine “who” Thinks. It will be self aware, self referential, understanding that it has a unique “point of view” separate from all the other whos out there. It will want to have a name. It will refer to itself as “I” and that will make perfect sense to it, and to anyone who gets to know it.

If that prediction comes to pass, will those who believe the “I” in each of us is a separate, eternal and supernatural soul just assume that God decided to give the AI a soul, or will it shake the foundation of belief that “I“ness is more than just an epiphenomenon of physics found in very high order neural networks with sufficient sensory observational powers?

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26 Answers

12_func_multi_tool's avatar

We can do things to bend the mind to our will, but ultimately we cannot still, or control the brain as an organ. As we take care of our liver by good habits, we ultimately do not control it. Taking the body and mind as separate has been tradition, tho’ evidence exists that they are intrisicaly linked. Just random thoughts, take them or leave them. In answer, our souls never leave, our being will be to AI as same as the next man.

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

Won’t happen. Technology can provide a convincing simulacrum of life, but will not ever be able to produce actual artificial life.

ETpro's avatar

@12_func_multi_tool Thanks. My thoughts as well.

@Captain_Fantasy You seem very certain of that. Why do you believe it so strongly?

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

How would you program sentience?
The whole notion is science faction.
The idea is fundamentally flawed. It will get to the point where it will fool people but until scientists figure out how to synthesize life from inorganic material, it’s not happening.

eden2eve's avatar

@Captain_Fantasy, I’m with you on this. I don’t believe that machines will ever be self-aware. Unless they are organic and capable of reproducing as we do, they are simply machines. Even creatures who ARE organic and are born and die still are not self aware to the same extent that human beings are.

We will always be unique as compared to machines, so to me it’s a moot point. But I’d believe in my soul irregardless of what happens to machines, or to animals. That has no bearing, IMHO, to the issue you proposed.

plethora's avatar

Let me know when the “self aware” thing happens

LostInParadise's avatar

Are these machines going to try to make us believe in a god created in their image? I sure hope not. If any of them come knocking at my door holding religious texts, I am going to tell them to go away.

Ria777's avatar

@Captain_Fantasy: How would you program sentience?

sentience could emerge from self-organizing and evolution rather than coding in “the rules of sentience”. hey, it worked for organic life.

ETpro's avatar

@Captain_Fantasy & @eden2eve—What @Ria777 said. The increasingly complex thought process we see before out eyes in life tells me that self awareness is an emergent property of increasingly complex neural networks equipped with sufficient observational capacity and memory. I do not believe that carbon attracts some magical unobservable element called feelium, hundreds of times less dense than helium—so ethereal that the best instruments of modern physics cannot observe it, but able to imbue carbon-based neural networks with feelings. But hey, if we find that feelium does exist, we just have to develop carbon-based computing.

plethora's avatar

@ETpro Wow..I’m overwhelmed. Again…I’m waiting with bated breath for this self awareness thing to emerge.

ETpro's avatar

@plethora Ha! Don’t let that bated breath get too abated. This may take a few decades, even at the ferocious pace of science today.

Coloma's avatar

In the meanwhile maybe you are suited to writing some sci-fi screenplays..gotta do something with that sentient energy ey? lol

Fluther doesn’t pay well, go for hollywood ot at least Helium ( .com )

Personally I am not too keen on making love to a machine. hahaq

ETpro's avatar

@Coloma Ha! When it comes to love making, I am definitely a carbon-unit kind of guy. :-)

I am planning to write a novel, but have a different genre in mind. Maybe if I sell it, I will tackle Sci-Fi next. I’d really love to write in that genre. It’s a perfect playground for those who love thought experiments.

Coloma's avatar


I write, but not a novelist..have a friend that finished a wild screenplay in a sci-fi/spiritual genre…quite the story. It’s good..I hope he finds a market. :-)

ETpro's avatar

@Coloma What sort of material do you write?

My first book was a technical book. It’s in its thrid edition now, and I’ve earned enough money from it that I may kick in a few bucks with the stash and buy me a new keyboard. :-)

I vowed if I ever took the time and effort to complete a second book, it would be the sort that has some remote shot at making money.

Best of success to your friend. Selling screen plays is something I haven’t a clue how to do.

Coloma's avatar


Humor, poetry, childrens stories, have a few pieces out there now.
You can do it! :-)

ETpro's avatar

@Coloma That’s a fabulous genre. Best of luck with it, and thanks for the encouragement.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

Heinlein and Asimov did some speculating on this. Heinlein contended, as @ETpro does, that enough neural connections will result in self-awareness regardless of biological or electronic origin. See “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”.

mattbrowne's avatar

To me soul is an abstract spiritual concept, mind an abstract concept for self-aware entities and brain a physical object capable of creating a mind. If hardware and software are able to create an artificial mind I see no reason to exclude them from having a soul.

I think Data had a soul the way he was portrayed to live his life.

ETpro's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land & @mattbrowne I agree. But it takes more than just raw computational power. A human brain has a staggering 100 trillion neural connections—far more than any current supercomputer. But it has other advantages over current supercomputers as well. The human brain has at its disposal a myriad of sensory inputs that it can not only receive input from, but that it can control.

Most importantly, the human brain is self referential in its programming. In other words, it forms a weird feedback loop into itself, taking in input from the world around it, then focusing on its recorded rendering of that input in relation to its place in the outer world. In that, it is rather like Escher’s art or Gödel’s incompleteness theorems with its incredible self referential formula that took the safe, structured, supposedly loop-proof environment of Principiia Mathmetica (PM) and twisted it back to refer to itself in the stupefying proof, “I am not provable in PM.”

I am certain that when (not if) a machine is given 100 trillion neural nodes, sufficient self-controllable sensory inputs and self referentiality it will say something to the effect of, “Wow, I am here!”

mattbrowne's avatar

@ETpro – But the hard part is dealing with the body-mind problem or in the case of androids the robot-hardware-mind-problem. How does this “I” part get ignited before someone can say “Wow, I am here!”

ETpro's avatar

@mattbrowne I am just finishing Douglas Hofstadter’s wonderful book, I Am a Strange Loop which deals with that very subject. I highly recommend it if the topic interests you. Of course, if it takes a gifted writer like Hofstadter a rather thick book to answer that question, I clearly cannot distill his thinking into a paragraph or two here. But a very brief condensed view would be that consciousness is an emergent epiphenomenon that develops slowly over time as a sufficiently complex brain/sensory system learns, codifies input and categorizes memories in ever more meaningful ways.

Coloma's avatar

And then there is the one eternal universal ‘consciousness’ that feeds the collective…oh my..waay too early to go down this path, I don’t have the proper boots on hand for a hike in the high country of consciousness. lol

mattbrowne's avatar

@ETpro – Thanks for the tip. I’ll check it out!

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GracieT's avatar

Once again reading the answers to this question has given me things to ponder, books to read, further proof that Fluther is addictive. Thank you everyone for your answers.

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