Daily Prompt: Soulful Machines

Machines, appliances, and gadgets sometimes feel like they have their own personalities — from quirky cars to dignified food processors. What’s the most “human” machine you own?

Anthropomorphisation is a very common process in Human Perception. We recognize faces in clouds, human orifices in trees, and personalities in machines and computers, also in our pets.

Which is why I’m not going to talk about my cats, my computers, or the car that I don’t own. What I’d rather talk about is the future, and Artificial Intelligence. It is undeniable that we will develop machines capable of emulating human behavior. The question is, whether the machines will emulate human behavior, or behave like humans. Of course, in the stage in which we are now, we can only speak of emulating human behavior. It’s incomplete. We can only make what we understand, and we don’t understand our own behavior well enough for such a feat.

The only way to stop this development, is to stop science, and the only way to stop science is to kill all Humans. If we wish to continue existing as a race, we must consider this: Can a Machine have a Soul? I’ll try to take a run at this one.

First of all, we must define the term "Soul". The Soul is believed to be the part of the Human that contains their Divine Spark. I am not comfortable with this definition. First of all, I am an Atheist, so the Divine Spark can’t be part of my definition. This is supposed to be a scientific attempt to tackle the question, thus something that is beyond proving is unsuitable for the task. Secondly, Why should a Soul be limited to Humans? Even limiting it to beings with a nervous system is rather arbitrary. Both of these would exclude machines from the start, and render every further consideration meaningless. I propose that every entity that can impose its will on its environment and make informed decisions has a Soul. I don’t know if that applies to my cats, since their span of attention seems too short for informed decisions, but I’m not a cat, so I don’t know how they decide anything, and whether they plan for any foreseeable period of time in the future.

So far, anyway, Machines do exactly as they are told by their creators. No matter how complex the programs are that we write, computers are still stupid automatons with no will or consideration for their environment. When Machines deviate, they are defective. We look for damaged parts and replace them, we look for bugs and fix them. That’s not so easy with Humans. Sure, we can replace some parts. We can implant pacemakers when our hearts don’t work properly anymore, and we can implant another person’s liver and other organs when they fail. We can attempt to correct human behavior with a shrink, and with correctional facilities, but we have yet to transplant memories or rewrite a person’s basic programming. Once a person is broken, truly broken, we can’t fix them, every memory changes us. How we are changed is what I call the Soul. How we break is determined by the Soul, and how we mend psychologically, how we develop in general. But the Soul isn’t static, either. Everything that happens to us, and everything we do is inscribed in our Soul. Even if we lose conscious access to our memories, our previous actions still leave a trace in our behavior and our perception.

If Machines some time in the future exhibit these above described traits, who are we to say they have no Soul? We will then need to determine between Automatons, which will still perform repetitive tasks, and Artificial Persons, who are shaped by experience, as we are


2 thoughts on “Daily Prompt: Soulful Machines

  1. Since I just read your other post on ‘liking’ without commenting, I’ll mention my reasons for liking this one. Interesting definition of ‘soul.’ I suppose by that definition many animals have souls, like Aristotle thought. You also got me thinking about ‘transhumanism.’ At what point would hybrid human/machines count as ‘soulful’ machines? When they were more machine than human? Is that cheating?

    1. R2D2 and C3P0 from Star Wars would be ‘soulful’ machines – no doubt about that. If I exchanged all of my body parts with machine parts, except for my brain, which would be the human/machine hybrid you’re thinking of, That’s tricky. We know that our Brains alone don’t hold our entire identity. They hold our memories and perform our fast processes, but many hormones that strongly influence our drives are produced elsewhere in a highly complex feedback relationship with the nervous system. On the other hand, scientifically we already consider the Body a machine. This way of looking at it would render the topic trivial, too, as there would be no fundamental difference between Man and Machine

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