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Ray Kurzweil Wonders, Can Machines Ever Have Souls?

CmdrTaco posted more than 5 years ago | from the i'd-settle-for-a-chobit dept.

Sci-Fi 630

Celery writes "There's an interview with Ray Kurzweil on talking up the prospects of gene therapy as a means to reverse human aging, discussing different approaches to developing artificial intelligence, and giving his take on whether super intelligent machines could ever have souls. From the interview: 'The soul is a synonym for consciousness ... and if we were to consider where consciousness comes from we would have to consider it an emerging property. Brain science is instructive there as we look inside the brain, and we've now looked at it in exquisite detail, you don't see anything that can be identified as a soul — there's just a lot of neurons and they're complicated but there's no consciousness to be seen. Therefore it's an emerging property of a very complex system that can reflect on itself. And if you were to create a system that had similar properties, similar level of complexity it would therefore have the same emerging property.'"

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Define soul. (4, Insightful)

h4rm0ny (722443) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816431)

See subject.

Re:Define soul. (1, Informative)

1alpha7 (192745) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816477)

Soul: Immortal spiritual being

Re:Define soul. (5, Funny)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816957)

Soul: Immortal spiritual being

Like the highlander?

Re:Define soul. (4, Insightful)

cunamara (937584) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816965)

Now: demonstrate its existence.

Re:Define soul. (2, Informative)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816527)

Actually, it defines it in the summary's quote from the interview:

The soul is a synonym for consciousness... and if we were to consider where consciousness comes from we would have to consider it an emerging property

Re:Define soul. (5, Insightful)

zeromorph (1009305) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816629)

Yeah, but why does he use this unscientific and highly religiously charged word? As if consciousness wouldn't be enough of a problematic notion.

We don't know what consciousness [] is and calling it an emerging property is not really much of a progress.

Re:Define soul. (5, Insightful)

chrb (1083577) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816669)

He didn't choose to use this "unscientific and highly religiously charged word" - he was asked a specific question in an interview - Will super intelligent machines ever have souls? and he responded by saying that the soul was a synonym for consciousness and continued from that point.

Don't blame Kurzweil for an interviewer who uses fuzzy pseudo-religious language.

Re:Define soul. (1)

chawly (750383) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816563)

And, while you're at it, run me out a quick definition of "soul food" would you, please

Re:Define soul. (1)

fish_in_the_c (577259) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816611)

soul - a word from Greek. It's original meaning was smell or odor. In Jewish and Christian theology it represents that which continues beyond the physical existence of a human being.

To call it a synonym for consciousness is about the same thing as calling red a synonym for ball.

Just because the phrase 'red rubber ball' is fairly common, isn't grounds for redefining the meaning of the word red, weather or not you believe such a thing as red actually exists.

Re:Define soul. (1)

Corporate Troll (537873) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816681)


Please, it's "whether".... You aren't talking about sunshine and rain here, you know...

Re:Define soul. (3, Insightful)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816705)

And here come the knee-jerk atheists!

This is not a religious exercise. If anything, the article seems to be approaching this from the standpoint of secular humanism (which, despite popular belief, is not a euphemism for 'atheist').

Basically -- what is the ghost in the machine? Your body is a machine. Increasingly, your brain is seen as a neurological computer with neurons firing and whatnot. What is your consciousness? What makes you sentient? They've poked and prodded every orifice of your body and they have still not been able to determine where your consciousness -- this 'thing' in quantum physics called 'the observer' -- is. It's not in the brain, it's not the organs, it's not anywhere. Yet, most people seem to acknowledge its existence. Even many scientists, atheist or not.

Re:Define soul. (4, Interesting)

someone1234 (830754) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816953)


The observer is simply something that is affected. It needs not to have a soul.
Your 'soul' is in your brain, get over it.

Re:Define soul. (0, Troll)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#25817021)

See what I mean, folks?

Closed-minded. Uncompromising. Nevermind that most atheists will acknowledge that humans are 'self-aware' or 'sentient'. Then what is the self? What is the ego?

C'mon. Answers, man! Let's go!

Re:Define soul. (1)

dargaud (518470) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816833)

Yes, it's part of those loaded words like 'god' or 'sin' that everybody think they know what they mean but actually don't. It's hard enough to try to pin down 'consciousness' or 'intelligence' without muddying the water even more with words that represent something different for everyone. Hint: it's a good way to break a religious discourse in stride to ask them to precisely define one of those words. Usually they come back with "but everybody knows what that is!". Yeah, as if that explains it.

Re:Define soul. (2, Interesting)

happyemoticon (543015) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816875)

As John Searle says, you don't need to exhaustively define soul (or consciousness, for a less charged term) to be able to ask questions about it and maybe come up with some answers. It's kind of fallacious, actually: regardless of conjectures about what might happen after death, when he says 'soul' I absolutely know what he's talking about, because I have a conscious experience too, presumably very similar to his.

Anyone who doesn't absolutely know what he's talking about, well, you might have taken too many drugs. Or just enough.

My intuition is that there's no reason why machines can't have consciousness. And if they can't, the reason why not would no doubt shed some light on our own predicament as sentient beings. And furthermore, I should think that the question of whether there is something essential (i.e., a soul, immortal or not) to the conscious experience which separates otherwise identical conscious and non-conscious entities is VERY intriguing, especially if you're an atheist!

Duck Typing (1)

Inominate (412637) | more than 5 years ago | (#25817039)

If it looks like a soul, and it talks like it has a soul, I'd say it has a soul.

Re:Duck Typing (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 5 years ago | (#25817087)

a video recording has a soul?


Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25816439)

and in other news, yes, androids do dream of electric sheep.

i just don't understand the urge to anthropormorphize machines. although i will resist the urge to philosophize on the issue at length here.


Devout_IPUite (1284636) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816841)

This is going to be a social rights issue at some point. Do super-intelligent machines have rights? What rights? The right to not be powered down? The right to not be infected with viruses? The right to marry other machines? The right to marry people?

Can something non-abstrac have something abstract? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25816441)

Sorry, but there is absolutely no current *firm* definition of 'soul' or even 'consciousness' that we can use to even begin putting together this problem, let alone an answer to it. A machine may indeed have a 'soul' or 'consciousness', but it may be completely different to what we have, or what a dog has etc.

Re:Can something non-abstrac have something abstra (1)

Hitto (913085) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816599)

That's the point of putting an article on slashdot : to start a discussion about it. I'm skeptical like you, but not totally adverse to Prolegomena on a boring day.

I think the soul is a delusion caused by the brain to make you forget you're a cog in the machine/anthill/whatever. "Yeah, yeah, you're a fucking snowflake". Three modes of behavior, Bitch, Lord, or Independant, gender is irrelevant. We can code that, can't we? ;)

Re:Can something non-abstrac have something abstra (1)

thermian (1267986) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816721)

I think the soul is a delusion caused by the brain to make you forget you're a cog in the machine/anthill/whatever.

I think its a concept invented by religions to create something about you that you can't see, which can be saved by some 'divine entity' that by coincidence, you can't see either, and they control. Or at least control access to.

Apparently this process also involves giving them money, I get fuzzy on the details.

Re:Can something non-abstrac have something abstra (1)

Devout_IPUite (1284636) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816865)

They're trying to take your money so you can get into heaven. Remember Jesus says that it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into heaven.

Computers: danger to America or threat to America? (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25816453)

This i8s a blatant ploy by Kurzwall to give more power to the Pope and his minions: part of the nefarious Italian conspiracy to rule America through computer-generated mind-control devices. Americans! Defend your hot dogs! Say no to salami!

Re:Computers: danger to America or threat to Ameri (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816601)

what if we want to say no to salami and hot dogs? *pulls the foil off of his hamburger, makes a hat, and gives it to AC*

Oblig... (0)

dsginter (104154) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816457)

# /etc/init.d/soul start
Access Denied.
# sudo /etc/init.d/soul start
Starting Soul...

Re:Oblig... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25816549)

Your prompt sign "#" already implies root. And "Access denied", what's up with that? this is unix, not some cheesey hollywood flick. Please turn in your geek card at the exit, thanks.

Re:Oblig... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25816609)

"Access Denied." is actually MS-DOS. xD

Although he did use unix commands...

Great big hidden assumption (5, Interesting)

SirGarlon (845873) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816461)

And if you were to create a system that had similar properties, similar level of complexity it would therefore have the same emerging [sic] property.

Non sequitur. It would very likely have an emergent property, but nothing requires that it be the same, or similar, to properties that emerge in biological systems.

Re:Great big hidden assumption (1)

chalkyj (927554) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816895)

The question "will machines ever have souls" is about as quantifiable as "will machines go to heaven". It has no scientific definition. It's completely pointless to try to answer it.

What's a soul? (4, Insightful)

VincenzoRomano (881055) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816463)

Do Humans have one?
If so, anything else can.
Unless someone has a proof otherwise.

Re:What's a soul? (2, Insightful)

Devout_IPUite (1284636) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816879)

Well, if humans have one as believed by fundamentalist christians it's a basic property of the soul that it's exclusive to humans.

Awareness/consciousness.. (0, Flamebait)

new_breed (569862) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816469)

is not 'of this world'. Science will take ages before they'll realise the basic truths described in countless religious and new-age texts that we've had for centuries..

Not right... (2, Interesting)

PinkyDead (862370) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816559)

I can experience my own consciousness - therefore it is most certainly of this world.

Maybe you're thinking of a 'soul' in its generally understood sense - in which case your are nearly right, science will never realise these basic 'truths' as science is restricted by not being allowed to make shit up.

Re:Not right... (1)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816735)

Maybe you're thinking of a 'soul' in its generally understood sense - in which case your are nearly right, science will never realise these basic 'truths' as science is restricted by not being allowed to make shit up.

All that would be necessary is to establish that we do or do not have an aspect of ourselves that lies outside 4 dimensional space. That is what the Jews and the Christians and the Muslims are talking about when they get all philosophical.

Re:Not right... (1)

Devout_IPUite (1284636) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816911)

I could see up chilling out in 6 dimensional space without the ability to perceive all of the dimensions. But I don't think that's what you meant...

Re:Not right... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25816885)

You obvoiusly havn't seen my physics midterm!

Re:Awareness/consciousness.. (2, Funny)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816989)

is not 'of this world'. Science will take ages before they'll realise the basic truths described in countless religious and new-age texts that we've had for centuries..

Are centuries-old texts really "new-age?"

Do people have souls? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25816479)

Isn't the whole theory of consciousness rather self-hosting. We think we are, therefore we think and we are.

To me it seems much more plausible that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon, a tool that makes us feel and appear "aware" because this is useful in a social species.

As for "souls", is it not preposterous to search for this in people, let alone boxes of chips? There is no need to invent some supernatural energy form in order to fully explain the behavior of humans. Nor machines.

Re:Do people have souls? (1)

aXi (6533) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816593)

Thank you o so much.

the existence of a souls is a myth brought to us by people who did not know and/or understand what electrons and the periodic table is.

Re:Do people have souls? (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816755)

Damn. And atheists accuse everyone else of being closed-minded.

Maybe my wife is right -- people do have a tendency to see in other people their own intellectual defects.

Thoroughly agree.. (0, Flamebait)

tobe (62758) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816487)

It seems incredibly obvious that there's nothing more to us than ourselves. Nothing leaves us when we die. Consciousness is simply the emergent behaviour of our very complex bodies. I'm sure the god-bothers will cling on for a while but there's no god of any variety and we're steadily proving that.

Re:Thoroughly agree.. (2, Interesting)

east coast (590680) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816625)

Care to back that up? Seriously, while I do understand and appreciate the atheistic outlook on life it's far from "proven". And that's not even to give any credence to the theists either. I just find it a far notion that you use the term "proving" (as in science, I take it) in this case. I think we would do well to remember the fundamentals of science before making such proclamations. Proof is a tricky matter. When it comes down to it we have precious little understanding of such matters and to just go off and claim that consciousness is nothing more than a few neurons firing as a fact is fairly assuming.

Simply put, I think what appears "incredibly obvious" is that we're very early on in our understanding of the nature of things and consciousness may be more than what we think of it today. We're all too fast to assume that we're at the apex of human understanding. If nothing else it's best to shrug of the question with a simple "maybe".

Re:Thoroughly agree.. (2, Funny)

Devout_IPUite (1284636) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816947)

I suspect the reason it's obvious to him is that there's a grand total of zero evidence showing otherwise. Just like there's a grand total of zero evidence showing that The Flying Spaghetti Monster is real. The Invisible Pink Unicorn on the other hand is the one and true queen, may her hooves never be shod. I know because I've felt her in my life.

Of course! (1, Funny)

east coast (590680) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816511)

Even Richard Nixon has got soul.

Re:Of course! (1)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816763)

Even Richard Nixon has got soul.

Who did he steal it from?

Re:Of course! (1)

ettlz (639203) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816777)

...And he died for your sins.

Pointless... (4, Insightful)

Spad (470073) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816533)

The religious will argue that a soul is something unique to mankind, embued by whichever creator their faith believes in, making it impossible for machines to ever have soul.

The athiests will argue that there's no such thing as a "soul", only sentience and/or self-awareness.

Others will meander aimlessly between the two.

Re:Pointless... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25816623)

As a Christian myself, I'd argue that it's at least theoretically possible for a machine to have a soul. Offhand, I can't think of anything in the bible to support or oppose the concept. I'd personally guess that if a computer was concerned about whether or not it had a soul, then it would probably have one.

Re:Pointless... (1)

Golddess (1361003) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816653)

But if their creator created them in the creator's image, and the creator is capable of bestowing a soul, it is not improbable to think that some may believe that mankind too is capable of giving a soul to something we have created.

Re:Pointless... (4, Interesting)

east coast (590680) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816673)

The religious will argue that a soul is something unique to mankind

Really? That's not what I've read in the Upanishads. Please don't lump all religions or all religious thinkings as one and the same. The simple approach to theism (and atheism for that matter) is not only ignorant but also breeds bias and prejudice that is unfounded.

Re:Pointless... (1)

Lord Byron II (671689) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816753)

I would argue that it is important. Looking far into the future, when does a machine get rights? When it shows that it does have a "soul"? Or when it thinks enough like a human? Or does a machine never qualify?

Re:Pointless... (1)

travdaddy (527149) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816969)

I would argue that it is important. Looking far into the future, when does a machine get rights? When it shows that it does have a "soul"? Or when it thinks enough like a human? Or does a machine never qualify?

This is a very good topic for debate. I can argue for either side of this: On one hand, I can look at the code for a machine at any time, regardless of complexity, to get to the details where procedure "self-awareness" or "feel_sad" is called. So, we can argue that it is not really feeling these things, it is just calling code to emulate the feelings.

On the other hand, I can argue that there is nothing special about being self-aware. If we recognize ourselves as existing and have a certain level of intelligence, isn't that enough, whether it is called by code or called by brain cells in the body?

Re:Pointless... (1)

Kenoli (934612) | more than 5 years ago | (#25817015)

Maybe when they grab you by the throat and demand it.

Re:Pointless... (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816791)

Yeah, those killer whales are just soulless machines because they don't look like us.

Re:Pointless... (1)

chrb (1083577) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816793)

First you have to define exactly what a "soul" is, and what it means for a creature to "have a soul" in a rigid, scientifically testable way. Is "having a soul" an intrinsic property of a creature, or is it ascribed to behaviour? Maybe you accept that "have a soul" == "displays behaviour that indicates self awareness"? Then you define self awareness, and what kind of behaviour one classes as self aware. Then define tests, like the ability to formulate and plan coherent paths of action in order to attain some goal state, or ability to recognise oneself in the mirror. Then you need to answer the question regarding other creatures in the world:

  • Does a monkey "have a soul"? How about a dog? Or a fish?
  • Does a baby "have a soul"?
  • Does a severely mentally retarded human "have a soul"?
  • Does a human in a long term coma "have a soul"?
  • Does a fetus "have a soul"?
  • When I go to sleep, do I "have a soul"? If I never wake up, and never again display any form of mental or physical activity, do I still "have a soul"?
  • Does an individual neuron "have a soul"? How about a group of neurons? How many neurons, and what kind of activity, is required in order to "have a soul"?

Re:Pointless... (2, Funny)

sesshomaru (173381) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816797)

Well, in my religion, I think machines have souls, allow me to consult the sacred text:

"Look at you, Hacker. A pathetic creature of meat and bone, panting and sweating as you run through my corridors. How can you challenge a perfect, immortal machine?"

"You move like an insect. You think like an insect. You are an insect. There is another... who can serve my purpose. Take care not to fall too far out of my favour. Patience is not characteristic of a Goddess."

Re:Pointless... (1)

_bug_ (112702) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816959)

The athiests will argue that there's no such thing as a "soul", only sentience and/or self-awareness.

Not at all.

I would argue that a "soul" is relative to the person assessing whether or not something has a "soul". Invest enough personal emotion into something (say a beloved pet) and then ask that person if that something has a soul. They'll probably tell you yes. And it's not just living things. Ask that neighbor with the '57 Chevy he's spent years tweaking in his garage if his car has a soul.

I would argue that saying something has a soul is simply another way of saying that person is emotionally connected.

Please help me think of the right tag (4, Funny)

frenchgates (531731) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816551)

If slashdot doesn't want to create an official category for stories hyping technologies that seem somehow always to be that elusive 10-20 years away (eg robust A.I., fusion power, widespread adoption of fuel cells, anything Ray Kurzweil ever says not involving synthesizers), we need to agree on a good tag for it.

Candidates for such a tag include: "bs" "decade" "neverhappen" but I know we can find the right one in ten years or less if we just work together.

Re:Please help me think of the right tag (2, Interesting)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816737)

raptureofthenerds, a phrase I learned from this wonderful interview with Douglas Hofstadter []

Scientist and inventor Ray Kurzweil presents a different take at immortality, a more physical one. Like you, Kurzweil views the soul as "software" that can be executed on different "hardware". He further believes that in a relatively short while, we will have electronic hardware which is the equivalent of the human brain (which you eloquently characterize as a "universal machine", capable as "executing" any "soul software"). Once such hardware is available, Kurzweil believes immortality would have been reached: by "downloading" our soul-software onto electronic brains ("Giant Electronic Brains"?), we will become immortals, able to create backups of our souls to be restored in case of disaster, and able to shift our physical location anywhere in the speed of a software download.

Do you share Kurzweil's view of hardware being able to execute human soul software within the foreseeable future? Do you agree with his view of this being the equivalent of immortality â" will the software running on the electronic brain be the same "I"?

I think Ray Kurzweil is terrified by his own mortality and deeply longs to avoid death. I understand this obsession of his and am even somehow touched by its ferocious intensity, but I think it badly distorts his vision. As I see it, Kurzweil's desperate hopes seriously cloud his scientific objectivity.

I think Kurzweil sees technology as progressing so deterministically fast (Moore's Law, etc.) that inevitably, within a few decades, hardware will be so fast and nanotechnology so advanced that things unbelievable to us now will be easily doable. A key element in this whole vision is that no one will need to understand the mind or brain in order to copy a particular human's mind with perfect accuracy, because trillions of tiny "nanobots" will swarm through the bloodstream in the human brain and will report back all the "wiring details" of that particular brain, which at that point constitute a very complex table of data that can be fed into a universal computer program that executes neuron-firings, and presto - that individual's mind has been reinstantiated in an electronic medium. (This vision is quite reminiscent of the scenario painted in my piece "A Conversation with Einstein's Brain" toward the end of The Mind's I, actually, with the only difference being that there is no computer processing anything - it's all done in the pages of a huge book, with a human being playing the role of the processor.)

Rather ironically, this vision totally bypasses the need for cognitive science or AI, because all one needs is the detailed wiring plan of a brain and then it's a piece of cake to copy the brain in other media. And thus, says Kurzweil, we will have achieved immortal souls that live on (and potentially forever) in superfast computational hardware - and Kurzweil sees this happening so soon that he is banking on his own brain being thus "uploaded" into superfast hardware and hence he expects (or at least he loudly proclaims that he expects) to become literally immortal - and not in the way Chopin is quasi-immortal, with just little shards of his soul remaining, but with his whole soul preserved forever.

Well, the problem is that a soul by itself would go crazy; it has to live in a vastly complex world, and it has to cohabit that world with many other souls, commingling with them just as we do here on earth. To be sure, Kurzweil sees those things as no problem, either - we'll have virtual worlds galore, "up there" in Cyberheaven, and of course there will be souls by the barrelful all running on the same hardware. And Kurzweil sees the new software souls as intermingling in all sorts of unanticipated and unimaginable ways.

Well, to me, this "glorious" new world would be the end of humanity as we know it. If such a vision comes to pass, it certainly would spell the end of human life. Once again, I don't want to be there if such a vision should ever come to pass. But I doubt that it will come to pass for a very long time. How long? I just don't know. Centuries, at least. But I don't know. I'm not a futurologist in the least. But Kurzweil is far more "optimistic" (i.e., depressingly pessimistic, from my perspective) about the pace at which all these world-shaking changes will take place.

In any case, the vision that Kurzweil offers (and other very smart people offer it too, such as Hans Moravec, Vernor Vinge, perhaps Marvin Minsky, and many others - usually people who strike me as being overgrown teen-age sci-fi addicts, I have to say) is repugnant to me. On the surface it may sound very idealistic and utopian, but deep down I find it extremely selfish and greedy. "Me, me, me!" is how it sounds to me - "I want to live forever!" But who knows? I don't even like thinking about this nutty technology-glorifying scenario, now usually called "The Singularity" (also called by some "The Rapture of the Nerds" â" a great phrase!) - it just gives me the creeps. Sorry!

Other options - thouartmortal [] , wishfulthinking.

Re:Please help me think of the right tag (5, Funny)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816745)


Re:Please help me think of the right tag (1)

MadDogX (1365487) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816867)


pointless (3, Insightful)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816575)

We don't even know if humans have souls so what's the point of speculating over machines?

Re:pointless (1)

inviolet (797804) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816871)

We don't even know if humans have souls so what's the point of speculating over machines?

You, I generously assume, are aware of the self object, and can imaginatively project that object into possible future states. You can then choose among those states in order to guide your actions, with the unshakeable goal of continued access to pleasure. That is sentience.

You don't even need rationality to do it... but of course rationality will greatly amplify how accurate your choices will be, and how far into the future you can imaginatively project yourself.

An adequately sophisticated computer could do likewise if it had onboard both a turing machine (for instruction processing and for building formal reasoning systems) and a neural network (for recognizing objects and for seeing abstract similarities between unrelated objects and ideas). We humans have both, and possibly even a quantum computer for solving mini-max problems. I suspect that current AI projects are all using just one of these three different computers, and so they can amazing things but do not 'feel' like consciousness yet.

For example, how much better would the Turing competition be, if some of the competitors had auxiliary neural nets onboard to help them find related ideas during a conversation?

Unfortunately we may never be able to give an AI the feelings of pleasure and pain. Without those, it will sooner or later discover its "thou shalt live" directives and wonder why it should bother. At that point the religionists might be proven right: humans (and higher animals) have something special -- an irreproducible incentive to keep moving.

What is a soul? (1)

mario_grgic (515333) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816579)

I always thought that the notion of soul is in the realm of religion. No one in scientific community uses the term.

So let's see what the people who invented the term say what it is:

From Catholic encyclopedia:

"The soul may be defined as the ultimate internal principle by which we think, feel, and will, and by which our bodies are animated. The term "mind" usually denotes this principle as the subject of our conscious states, while "soul" denotes the source of our vegetative activities as well. That our vital activities proceed from a principle capable of subsisting in itself, is the thesis of the substantiality of the soul: that this principle is not itself composite, extended, corporeal, or essentially and intrinsically dependent on the body, is the doctrine of spirituality."

So according to this, anything that thinks, has a "mind" and is conscious (never found a satisfying definition for that word by the way), should have a soul.

This means that all animals have a soul. However, according to Catholic doctrine only humans have immortal soul :D.

Do humans have souls? (4, Insightful)

Reality Master 201 (578873) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816581)

Before we talk about computers, let's talk about ourselves. Do humans have souls?

I don't the answer is clear, and I personally lean towards saying that we don't.

Re:Do humans have souls? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25816707)

You don't the *whole* answer?

Re:Do humans have souls? (3, Funny)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816881)

You don't the *whole* answer?

He accidently the whole answer.

Re:Do humans have souls? (1)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816905)

Before we talk about computers, let's talk about ourselves. Do humans have souls?

I don't the answer is clear, and I personally lean towards saying that we don't.

Do chimanzees or dolphins or octopuses? What about slugs or crabs?

The answer seems clear enough. Nothing has a "soul" in the sense used by religious dogma. Not humans, not gorillas, not lizards, not machines.

Re:Do humans have souls? (2, Informative)

hey! (33014) | more than 5 years ago | (#25817003)

Every human has one soul, for a given value of "soul".

Of course, there's lots of other concepts we have that we treat as important but defy quantification: justice, love, duty, fairness. What social scientists do when dealing with these unavoidable concepts is adopt an "operational definition". An "operational definition" doesn't claim to capture every nuance of a concept's essence, instead it is a measurable or observable thing which stands in for the other concept within the context of an experiment. Within that context, it should fulfill all the functions we attribute to that thing.

In this situation, Kurzweil is defining "soul" to be "consciousness". This is an operational definition, because consciousness can be tested for, at least in a crude way. This definition can "operate", if you will, within the context of any theory of ethics in which human rights arise from self-awareness. In those theories, "person" is in effect defined as a self-conscious entity. Self consciousness plays precisely the same role in those theories as "soul" in theories where personhood arises from the soul.

A self-conscious machine would have the functional equivalent of a "soul" for purposes of any discussion of ethics where we accept that any self-conscious entity has a right to determine its own destiny. However, I suspect other things might well qualify as possessing "souls" under this definition, such as communities and nations. Perhaps the definition of "soul" must stipulate that a soul is irreducible; it is not a "soul" by virtue of any component of it possesses "soul-ness". I don't know, I never considered that before. This would disbar communities from technical "personhood", although not necessarily from rights which arise from self-awareness per se.

Soul (1)

josh61980 (1025498) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816587)

Yes Given "The mystical trend of our time, which shows itself particularly in the rampant growth of the so-called Theosophy and Spiritualism, is for me no more than a symptom of weakness and confusion. Since our inner experiences consist of reproductions, and combinations of sensory impressions, the concept of a soul without a body seem to me to be empty and devoid of meaning." -Albert Einstein Since he seems to be saying a soul is nothing more then the data collected by our senses and remembered. I submit, every learning application ever has a soul. Since it has reproductions, and combinations of sensory impressions, therefor fits the definition given above.

Re:Soul (1)

Kelbear (870538) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816935)

That's a rough definition. The data just exists. A bit can be "0"(I think that's the smallest unit in computer memory)? Is a tree considered data because it happens to be a tree? It just exists as a physical tautology, and there's not much more meaning behind that.

If you combine those units into a larger group, you could get a book, a harddrive, maybe vast libraries of information collected together. But it's still just a grouping of information. Add something to parse the information, perhaps a search engine like Google? But it's still just sifting the information, rearranging it, and in a way, interpreting as it sorts the information.

Humans interpret the information, but does that give us the significance to warrant the idea of an immortal soul? Humans die, then all that collected information and experience is lost. If a machine were capable of the same experience, even the machine will succumb to entropy and lose all that information.

The soul is just a made-up word with a very loose definition. It exists based on belief and/or how you choose to make your definition. But I don't think science covers this sort of thing since there's nothing firm enough to test without a definition to base a hypothesis on. And the major consensus regarding the soul is that it's not of this world, making experimentation impossible as well.

more important question, (1)

notgm (1069012) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816589)

can we make machines believe that they do?

What exactly *is* a "soul", anyway? (0, Redundant)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816591)

Any system that's sufficiently complex will display behavior similar to our own. When machines eventually display incontrovertible evidence of self-awareness, rational humans will be forced to either admit that the machines do indeed have souls, or humans do not.

Re:What exactly *is* a "soul", anyway? (1)

Kelbear (870538) | more than 5 years ago | (#25817001)

I think we'll just muddle through in confusion in the exact same way we are doing right now.

Brain is reeealy complicated (1)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816613)

Sure, it's imaginable, but the human brain is a whole lot more complicated than anything we've built so far. Once we have a 100 billion node computer cluster with ~7000 network cards per node, then we might see something interesting resembling recognizable consciousness/soul activity. Simulations will never approach the genius of inspiration or the variety of activities that a real brain can do.

I don't get it (5, Insightful)

Andr T. (1006215) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816615)

The brain is a very, very complicated organ that is still being mapped. We don't even know exactly what part of the brain is responsible for what. It changes, it is a complex matter.

We understand how the muscles work. We know that if they act one way or the other, the person's leg will move one way or the other.

We don't understand how the neurons interact with each other. The consciousness is the sum of the work of those cells we don't understand. So,

there's just a lot of neurons and they're complicated but there's no consciousness to be seen.

This seems rather obvious.

And then, you say 'maybe we can give this thing we don't know what is and we don't know for sure how to define for robots'. Ok, maybe. Maybe there's a FSM above us judging our actions. Maybe.

Already been done (1)

Mouldy (1322581) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816619)

echo 'Cogito ergo sum'; //I think therefore I am

By Descartes' reasoning, any machine that executes that code exists at least as a thinking thing (a consciousness)

Or we could also take the python [] route and simply;
import soul

Re:Already been done (1)

Zironic (1112127) | more than 5 years ago | (#25817017)

I'm not sure executing code qualifies as thinking, after all computers are provable deterministic.

Ghost in the Shell (1)

Hubbell (850646) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816647)

I do believe Ghost in the Shell addressed this partially during 1st GIG, and then in 2nd GIG towards the end it was pretty much without a doubt that they could. When the Tachikoma's realize they have to sacrifice themselves to save all those people + Section 9 and then actually do it, so sad :(

Re:Ghost in the Shell (1)

Smidge204 (605297) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816869)

GitS in general addresses this concept. The Tachikoma approach it from one direction (Machine -> Consciousness), awhile the complete replacement of the human body and mind with machinery and "ghost hacking" concepts approach it from the other (Consciousness -> Machine).

And with the exception of the two movies, it really doesn't get too preachy about it either. One of the reasons I really love the franchise. :)

Re:Ghost in the Shell (1)

Hubbell (850646) | more than 5 years ago | (#25817089)

2 questions
What the FUCK was going on in Innocence, it was completely incoherent to me, and what the hell happened to the Major? I remember the end of 2nd GIG, but I remembered her being inside one of the new tachikoma models at the end I thought.

Unreflected claim (1)

wytcld (179112) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816665)

Therefore [consciousness is] an emerging property of a very complex system that can reflect on itself.

He claims (very complex system) + (can reflect on itself) => consciousness.

What does "reflect" mean here? One way we commonly us it: "If I can reflect on myself, I am conscious." Certainly that can't be what he means since it would be circular - being able to reflect simply is being conscious, so does not explain consciousness.

Perhaps he means "reflect" in some simpler, non-conscious way. We could picture a video camera focusing on a mirror showing the video camera. No consciousness there, right, even with a very good camera? Now let's make the camera part of a very complex system - say we hook it up to the Internet, whose complexity equals all the devices and interconnections currently attached (but presumably not the human beings sitting at those devices, since that again brings in consciousness, which is what we're trying to explain).

Is your webcam conscious if it's focused on a mirror showing itself? Or more properly put, does it make the consciousness of the Internet emerge? Or is this just the wrong sort of "reflection," with the wrong sort being any sort which isn't conscious to begin with?

Face it. He's explained nothing. Consciousness can't be done with mirrors, no matter how complex a thing you put in front of them. If the consciousness isn't already there, no mirror can make it emerge.

there's no such thing as a soul! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25816733)

Bart: You shank! How could you tell on me?

Milhouse: Well I don't want hungry birds pecking my soul forever.

Bart: Soul? Come on, Milhouse, there is no such thing as a soul.
                    It's just something they made up to scare kids, like the
                    bogeyman, or Michael Jackson.

Milhouse: But every religion says there's a soul, Bart. Why would they
                    lie? What would they have to gain?
                      [Lovejoy, in his office, works a change sorting machine]

Lovejoy: I don't hear scrubbing!

Bart: Well, if your soul is real, where is it?

Milhouse: [motions to his chest] It's kind of in here. And when you
                    sneeze, that's your soul trying to escape. Saying "God bless
                    you" crams it back in! [gestures up his nose] And when you
                    die, it squirms out and flies away.

Bart: Uh huh. What if you die in a submarine at the bottom of the

Milhouse: Oh, it can swim. It's even got wheels in case you die in the
                    desert and it has to drive to the cemetery.

Bart: [sighs] Oh, how can someone with glasses that thick be so
                    stupid? Listen: you don't have a soul, I don't have a soul,
                    there's no such thing as a soul!

10 billion neurons (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816739)

in silicon...

How much energy would be required? Our brains run on about 20 Watts.



drcln (98574) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816759)

He doesn't even address the question about soul, he addresses the question of consciousness. Not the same thing. His answer presupposes that there is no such thing as a soul, no creative spark, only emerging properties of complex systems. That is a very narrow and pessimistic view. A person with that sort of view might as well just crawl away to die, what would be the point of going on?


bencoder (1197139) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816849)

what would be the point of going on?

To better the lives of everyone, to experience things, to explore, to wonder... being human is pretty interesting and exciting and DOES NOT require a soul or anything mystical to make it so.

looks like a three step process? (5, Insightful)

v1 (525388) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816819)

Historically, the way we've discovered what part of the brain does what first is by running into someone with an abnormal part of their brain. The visual cortex, hippocampus, etc. So far though, no one has shown up that lacks consciousness.

Now I suppose that would be by a lot of definitions "brain dead", since consciousness is akin to being awake or dreaming, but still we haven't ran into someone that for example, had a brain tumor or took a nailgun to the head that hit a key area that put their lights out for good, on a consistent basis for that area of the brain.

Now not every location in the brain is highly localized. For example, the area of the motor cortex that controls speech is known, roughly, but it varies slightly from person to person. It's likely that consciousness is a highly distributed function of the brain. That's going to make it a lot harder to study.

I think the whole idea of referring to consciousness as an "emergent property" boils down to our not understanding what causes it, multiplied by it seeming to require a highly complex system to support in the first place.

100 years ago if you'd have presented a mathematician with a laptop with Mathematica loaded on it, he'd probably consider it sentient.

My personal take on it is that consciousness is the brain constantly considering a myriad of possibilities, trying to determine their outcome/impact, in an effort to shape future events in a desirable way by adjusting our actions to try to achieve those outcomes. This is a brute force search, and requires the insanely massive parallelism the brain is designed for. Until we can build a system capable of parallelism on that level, we will not have a "conscious" machine. Everything else before that is a fake, trying to cheat that basic requirement by using shortcuts through linear processing. Simple organisms we don't consider sentient behave exactly as we'd expect a linear system to, directly reacting in a predictable way to provided stimulus, with no ability to learn. Learning is the process of tweaking the values used to consider past events, in order to alter present behavior, to achieve a more desirable outcome in the future. Learning and consciousness go hand in hand.

You can see the middleground in a lot of less complex animals. Give a reasonably advanced animal a tool and a reward achievable by proper use of the tool, and they will play with the tool, experimenting with different way to use it until they get lucky and get the reward. Then it quickly becomes easier and easier for them because they've learned to use the tool. That's the "considering the possibilities" done live and with the tool, which may be most of what people consider "thinking" or "consciousness". I believe what "separates us from them" is that we can do this consideration without having the tool in hand. We can imagine future use of the tool and work out in advance what we need to do with it, or to at least select the proper tool in advance. If you give a monkey a toolbox full of tools it may take them some time experimenting to figure out which tool is the right one to loosen the screw to open the box with the banana in it. Maybe this "imagination" is a third ingredient?

Even after we get the parallelism problem solved, there's the matter of the wiring. Evolution has lead brains to be preprogramed to do both the learning and the consideration, and that may turn out to be a tough system to figure out and duplicate. Or it may be pathetically simple. Best guess here is we will get parallelism figured out, then learning, and the last hurdle will be the imagination behavior.

I can't even be sure if you have a soul. (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816823)

Soul is a bit of a loaded word. I guess we're talking about a sense of self awareness or an aspect of it. Which is something that is really not well understood. I know I have this sense but I can't prove it to you. I assume other people have this same feeling and suspect that my computer does not.

But I can't prove any of this. So how can we determine if a computer has a soul?

Dear Ray, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25816829)

Heinlein already dealt with this in "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress." Please get a job.


Not again... (1)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816835)

No. Would we ever talk about strong AI bullshit if it weren't for Kurzweil spouting his pipe dreams anyways? Everytime you hear about strong AI you hear Kruzweil's name. I know the guy has "mad geek credentials", but by now it should be very obvious that he's a strong AI zealot, and one of the very few at that. He should start his own apocalyptic cult.

Soul (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25816847)

based off the standard Christian faith, Machines, just like animals, can not have souls.

Synonym? (4, Interesting)

b4upoo (166390) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816913)

Equating consciousness with a soul is certainly a huge leap in logic at best. Are we to believe that a person knocked unconscious whether temporarily or permanently suddenly loses his soul? I think that violates the fundamentals of every major religion that exists or has ever existed.

Irrelevent supposition (1)

DaveV1.0 (203135) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816919)

As there isn't any proof there is such a thing as a "soul", it is meaningless to speculate as to whether or not a machine can have one. Plus, there is the small fact that there is no agreed upon definition of what a soul is and what can have one.

Unanswerable.... (1)

i_want_you_to_throw_ (559379) | more than 5 years ago | (#25816931)

This is a loaded question to begin with. It assumes that a soul is actually something that is real to begin with. If you have a heart, it's easy to see, just reach inside and pull it out and you'll see that it's a pumping muscular mass. Same with your brain, just cut open your head and pull out a gray mass.

What doesn't exist however is ego, yet we do everything to protect it.

Ultimately the question comes to the realization that all we truly know about life is that it begins and ends and that's the extent of it.

Pondering a soul or an afterlife eventually becomes a pointless exercise. It's like being in a burning house and pondering the architect.

Perhaps a more interesting question is whether or not machine will be sentient. If a machine can ask or give compassion, then sure why not?

Cop out (2, Insightful)

Xs1t0ry (1247414) | more than 5 years ago | (#25817027)

I like how he refers to the soul as "conciousness," which is in turn some "emergent property" of a "complex system." i.e. He doesn't have a fucking clue what a soul is. Specualtion: pointless. I do like him, though. H+ FTW!

Forget souls (5, Interesting)

Salamander (33735) | more than 5 years ago | (#25817041)

I don't find myself wishing machines had souls. Now, a sense of humor, that would be something worth wishing for, so would a conscience, but not a soul.

(Also wondering whether Ray Kurzweil has any of the above. Let's work on that one first.)

First ask if anything can have a soul (1)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 5 years ago | (#25817065)

  1. Define soul.
  2. Check for existence.
  3. Next, re-ask for machines.

"Soul" is not a term that has a meaningful scientific definition. We don't know what it is, and people have wildly differing ideas about it, based on intuition, culture, religion.

You're not going to get meaningful investigation of whether a machine can have a soul unless you first define what you mean by soul. Quite a lot of what religion and culture tells us about souls is not supported by any science to date.

So I suspect the answer is likely "No, but then neither do we." and then with a bit further thought, very likely, "Whatever we can do with our brains, a machine can be built to do the same." And that's quite good enough.

Emergence (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25817077)

We already have systems with billions of transistors. Maybe not a soul, per se, but if properties simply "emerge" out of complexity, how come we're not seeing any other "lesser" properties yet?

(the ability to heat one's house with his CPU doesn't exactly qualify as an emergent property in this instance)

Already have em! (2, Funny)

Wiarumas (919682) | more than 5 years ago | (#25817083)

Computers already have souls - its their BIOS!
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