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Ray Kurzweil Wonders, Can Machines Ever Have Souls? 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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Ray Kurzweil Wonders, Can Machines Ever Have Souls?

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  • Define soul. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by h4rm0ny ( 722443 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @09:54AM (#25816431) Journal
    See subject.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by 1alpha7 ( 192745 )
      Soul: Immortal spiritual being
      • by Colonel Korn ( 1258968 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:34AM (#25816957)

        Soul: Immortal spiritual being

        Like the highlander?

      • Re:Define soul. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by cunamara ( 937584 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:34AM (#25816965)
        Now: demonstrate its existence.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by WgT2 ( 591074 )

          That would require a better definition of the 'soul':

          • Mind
          • Will
          • Emotions

          Whereas you MAY have used the 'Emotions' part of that definition, the other two are obvious... despite their not being able to be 'seen'; as if they were "spiritual" in nature.

          Whether the soul is eternal or not delves into where you put your faith/trust/confidence in. Where ever that is: it had best be correct.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Dr. Eggman ( 932300 )
      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. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by zeromorph ( 1009305 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:08AM (#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. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by chrb ( 1083577 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:12AM (#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.

    • 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      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 th

      • Re:Define soul. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by someone1234 ( 830754 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:34AM (#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. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Roland Piquepaille ( 780675 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:46AM (#25817181)

        You're a very clever troll, but I'll bite...

        here come the knee-jerk atheists

        Feel threatened in your religious beliefs much? Don't worry, that phenomenon you see around you whereby people abandon irrational creeds is called progress. It's slow coming, but it's coming.

        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

        Have you considered that consciousness is an illusion of a human brain that has become powerful enough to reflect on its own existence? That's why you won't find it in the body or the brain, anymore that you'll find a tummy ache if you look inside your stomach.

        this 'thing' in quantum physics called 'the observer'

        Nice confusion here. The "observer" in quantum physics doesn't have to be sentient or conscious. A simple camera is enough to skew a quantum physic's experiment.

        Yet, most people seem to acknowledge its existence. Even many scientists, atheist or not.

        Wrong logic here. It's not because scientists and "most people" acknowledge the existence of consciousness that they all agree it's a metaphysical being. In fact, if I had to guess, I'd say most scientists believe consciousness is a physical brain process that has nothing to do with metaphysics or religion.

        • Re:Define soul. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Kazoo the Clown ( 644526 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @03:50PM (#25822393)
          When you look at individuals who have suffered brain damage or degenerative brain diseases, you see that their "consciousness" can be fragmented or incomplete in a whole variety of ways (read most anything by Oliver Sachs for some specific examples, or carry on a conversation with someone with Alzheimer's).

          Apologists have tried to argue that their "soul" has flown the coop or is halfway-out of them or simply some "connections" to the body are broken or something, but that seems a much more convoluted argument and fails to explain much of the observed phenomena.

          Certainly memory is often impaired, which if it were a function of the "soul" would presumably exist somewhere, yet access to it is clearly limited in many individuals. So go ahead, make up a lot of voodoo to explain it so that it includes a "soul," but don't expect the convoluted rain-dance around the evidence to be very convincing.
      • Re:Define soul. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by cunamara ( 937584 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:55AM (#25817367)

        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.

        You've tossed the baby out with the bathwater in your list of where consciousness is not. It's clear from observation that consciousness exists in interaction between the nervous system and the world around it (and also the nervous system and the rest of the material of the body). It is an emergent property. Subjectively consciousness is unitary although this may not in fact be the case- there are multiple systems of consciousness (vision, hearing, haptic, cognition, etc). The works of James J. Gibson and Edward Reed- among others- are worth checking out in this regard.

        The conceptual difficulty comes from the popular notions of "soul" present in various mythologies, especially the notion of an immortal soul that is somehow placed into the body at some point and which leaves the body at some point. The existence of this soul is non-demonstrable and its existence is an article of faith not observation; it becomes problematic when faith attempts to trump observable reality.

        Interestingly the Buddhist conception of human functioning avoids these difficulties. It denies the existence of an immortal individual soul and identifies all aspects of existence as mutually emergent properties which are conditional, constantly changing and ultimately temporary. Over-simplistically, Buddhism proposes six types of consciousness: sight, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling and mental formations. Each arises as an interaction between the properties of the organism and the properties of its environment. No permanent, immortal and highly problematic soul (which violates the laws of physics) is needed.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          Could you explain more about the Buddhist concept of human functioning? Does that contradict the idea of reincarnation? What exactly is being reincarnated if not a permanent immortal soul?

          I understand there are different sects of Buddhism with varying beliefs and practices, just curious if this belief marks a separation from mainstream Buddhist practice.
          • Re:Define soul. (Score:5, Informative)

            by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @12:03PM (#25818485) Homepage Journal

            Buddhists don't believe in 'reincarnation' in the sense that you are thinking.

            In Buddhism, all things are said to be ephemeral -- which is just a fancy word meaning temporary. Even the soul is ephemeral. The concept of 'ephemeralness' (is that a word?) is central to Buddhism because Buddhism teaches that one should not become attached to things because all things are ephemeral. That's why life is so much suffering in the world -- suffering stems from attachment.

            Anyway, to simplify the soul concept greatly: if you think of the ocean and you pull out a glass of water from the ocean, the water in the glass is what Buddhists call 'the soul'. When the glass breaks (death), then the water merges back to the ocean. That specific volume of water is no longer identifiable again -- if you were to dip another (or even the same) glass into the ocean, you'd get a different soul, because you'd have a separate distinct volume of water.

    • by dargaud ( 518470 )
      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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      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 man

  • by SirGarlon ( 845873 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @09:56AM (#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.

    • by Mateo_LeFou ( 859634 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:45AM (#25817157) Homepage

      We're machines, and *we have souls...

  • What's a soul? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by VincenzoRomano ( 881055 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @09:56AM (#25816463) Homepage Journal
    Do Humans have one?
    If so, anything else can.
    Unless someone has a proof otherwise.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

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

  • Of course! (Score:2, Funny)

    by east coast ( 590680 )
    Even Richard Nixon has got soul.
  • Pointless... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Spad ( 470073 ) <> on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:01AM (#25816533) Homepage

    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: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      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... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by east coast ( 590680 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:12AM (#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.
    • 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?
      • 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
    • Yeah, those killer whales are just soulless machines because they don't look like us.
    • by chrb ( 1083577 )

      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 som

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by sesshomaru ( 173381 )

      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."

  • by frenchgates ( 531731 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:02AM (#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: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Hal_Porter ( 817932 )

      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.

    • by Thanshin ( 1188877 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:19AM (#25816745)


  • pointless (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:03AM (#25816575)

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

    • 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 th

  • 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

  • by Reality Master 201 ( 578873 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:04AM (#25816581) Journal

    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.

    • 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: (Score:3, Informative)

      by hey! ( 33014 )

      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.

  • 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 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Andr T. ( 1006215 ) <andretaff@gmai l . c om> on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:06AM (#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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by geekoid ( 135745 )

      "We don't even know exactly what part of the brain is responsible for what"

      Yes, we do. I suggest you read some literature that has been written in the last 20 years.

      We even know which part of the brain makes you feel unique from your surroundings.

      Maybe is a cowardly cop out.

  • 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 pictur

  • in silicon...

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


  • by v1 ( 525388 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:25AM (#25816819) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • 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.
  • Synonym? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by b4upoo ( 166390 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:32AM (#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.

  • 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.

  • 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 ext
  • Forget souls (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Salamander ( 33735 ) <> on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:38AM (#25817041) Homepage Journal

    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.)

  • by Wiarumas ( 919682 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:40AM (#25817083)
    Computers already have souls - its their BIOS!
  • by divisionbyzero ( 300681 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:48AM (#25817209)

    He sold his soul a long time ago and is now forced to ask the same crap, unanswerable questions and make the same bombastic, unprovable assertions over and over again for the rest of his life. I think he got a book deal out of it and the amazing ability to get publications to pay attention to him even though he became old news about ten years ago.

  • by kenp2002 ( 545495 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:52AM (#25817303) Homepage Journal

    People have been asking this since the first little girl asked her daddy if their Dog Spot has a soul. I offer you this reader:

    A father and a mother each have a soul. They have a child. Start you debate here.

    If the soul is bestowed upon the child by a divine being, then the divine being may just as likely bestow a garbage can or a tree a soul at it's (the divine being in charge) discretion. So there is no restriction on a robot having a soul. From a Christian perspective, if God knows when even a sparrow falls then I'd wager he'd be on top of giving any robot that askes for a soul one with due haste. If God is the father that makes HAL God's grandkid.

    If the soul is emergent, inherit in the child and develops as does conciousness then it is just as likely a soul would eventually emerge for any complex system. The universe itself may have a soul due to its complexity.

    Once you have a given rule on the source of the soul then you can spend another lifetime debating what a soul is. As far as the original discussion though we come to the same answer every time:

    From a spiritual aspect, where God can do anything and the soul is crafted by God, it can be bestowed upon anything at God's discretion thus a robot with a soul is not only probable, but would more then likely be expected.

    From a scientific standpoint, there is no restriction on conciousness and self awareness by a mechanical or electronic system. As our brain, as complex as it is, is an organic machine. So from a scientific standpoint there doesn't appear to be a restriction on a soul in an robot or computer. This does though imply that there is a good chance your hamburger had a soul depending on it's level of awareness. Which then leads into the discussion of what level of sentience\awareness endows a person with a soul which then leads into a whole mess of crap ranging from animal right, abortion, and in the event of intelligent non-human life, the discussion of Sentient Rights (as human rights would be racist at that point.)

    My head hurts, getting a blood mary, Cheers!

  • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @11:37AM (#25818045)

    Rather obvious. In addition, it is not known whether consciousness is actually a property of the brain, or whether the brain is merely an interface device for something else. The oncludsion that consciousness is a property of the brain is non-scientific. The current established fact is that we have no clue at all, besides the sensors being attached to the brain are in part also available to the consciousness. In addition we know that while there seems to be genuine "free will", most people rarely use it and are generally emotion driven (animals have emotions too, so nothing special there) and do not even use interlectual capabilities that seem to be at least in part a feature of the brain. Quite frankly, seeing the how a lot of people behave, I would not be surprised to find out they actually do not have a consciousness at all or at least that it was not in control most of the time...


    • by meringuoid ( 568297 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @12:48PM (#25819333)
      In addition, it is not known whether consciousness is actually a property of the brain, or whether the brain is merely an interface device for something else.

      If the consciousness is not in the brain, but instead somewhere else, how is it that consciousness is affected by drugs? Drugs can alter the subjective experience of consciousness quite dramatically. Yet they're nothing but mundane organic chemicals which fuck with brain chemistry. That, to me, is extremely strong evidence that consciousness is resident in the brain.

      If 'I' were a supernatural entity resident elsewhere - a 'soul' using the brain as an interface to the physical world - then I might expect drugs to slow down transmissions from the brain, or even scramble them to some extent. So reflex delays, loss of coordination, even hallucination, that's possible. But the core 'I', the consciousness, should be serenely unaffected by this.

      Anybody who has done something bloody stupid while drunk knows that this is not what brain-affecting drugs are like. The consciousness itself as a subjective experience is strongly affected by chemicals which affect the brain.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @12:11PM (#25818615) Journal
    I hope machines don't acquire a soul. Then they will spend their time endlessly debating whether they were intelligently designed or evolved and stop doing the things I ask them to do.
  • by master_p ( 608214 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @12:11PM (#25818627)

    Consciousness is a brain function, and there is consciousness center in the brain. Has it ever happened to you to wake up but not be conscious for a brief moment in time? it has happened to a friend of mine: he woke up, got to the kitchen, started breakfast, but he was not conscious at the time. His wife talked to him, he replied...suddenly, he woke up, and realized he was in the kitchen. He did not remember how he got there.

    This incident, and others I've heard and read, makes me believe that consciousness is a brain function. In the above case, this function was not activated at waking up time, but much later, but the person acted as usual.

    I think the purpose of the consciousness function, regarding evolution, is to place the entity in the universe; the advantages of this higher function for evolution are obvious: if one realizes his/her/its place in the cosmos, it can act on a higher level to preserve his/her/its presence in it. The clear evidence for this is humans: they are dominating the planet as we speak.

  • by vadim_t ( 324782 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @01:53PM (#25820529) Homepage

    Assumption: For there to be a soul, it has to be located somewhere.

    So we can try to figure out where it is by ruling out the places where it isn't.

    It can't be in the body surrounding the brain. We can currently replace any part of it without making a human "soulless" according to a religious authority. I've never heard a priest declare somebody with a leg prothesis to lack a soul, for instance. So it's not in the leg, arm, heart, veins, liver, kidneys, etc. There have been humans with artificial replacements for all of those, but I've never heard for anybody to claim they lacked a soul because of it. Surely if the soul disappeared with the disappearance of a body part it'd make some noticeable difference.

    So a place left: the brain. However there are cases of humans who managed to retain quite normal functioning with a hemisphere missing, and AFAIK either half can be missing. The resulting human won't be completely normal to be sure, but I still haven't heard of anybody referring as somebody with half a brain as lacking a soul.

    Two conclusions may be made from this.

    The first one is that since that the lack of no part of the human body seems to cause a "soulless" condition, there's no such thing.

    The second one is that the soul is integrated into the brain over all its area, so having a brain means having "half a soul". In that case, how much soul is needed? Does having any brain damage imply you have "less soul" and are therefore less human? Also brain size and weight changes with age. Does that mean that a child has less soul than an adult? And the decrease in mass with age would imply having less of it as you get older. That would also imply that a machine using a part of a human brain would automatically acquire the amount of the soul present in it.

    So it seems to me that either there's no such thing, or a machine can be made with it easily.

    The other option is to suppose the soul isn't attached anywhere, and not implicit in a human body, but external and granted by a deity. In which case the answer would be "yes", since an all-powerful deity could always attach one to a robot if it felt like it.

  • Ah, Kurzweil (Score:3, Informative)

    by lawaetf1 ( 613291 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @02:10PM (#25820801)

    How much fun academia must be.

    "I'll live forever!! (read my book)"
    "One day machines will rival human intelligence!! (read my book)"

    I suppose it's easy to lose track of current progress when bopping around the halls of MIT where the next super-substance, ultra-efficient, free-energy widget is always just around the corner. I don't mean to poop on his parade but his views on near-term technology push the limits of optimism and border on scifi. With at the end of his email address, however, he gets heralded as a prescient futurist.

    Kurzweil - you're going to die. I don't care how many injections of thiamine you take a week and how many glasses of organic carrot juice you put down. You'll die maybe with maybe a slightly longer life span than the average healthy person but 150 years of age you will not see. If pharma companies can pour hundreds of millions into studying a single drug, to interact with a single pathway, and then have to recall the same drug later due to unexpected side effects... what makes you think you have unlocked the gift of the gods? "respirocytes" to boost your oxygen exchange 100x that of red blood cells? please. They'd probably tangle in your brain in five minutes.

    He'll have the last laugh though.. Another big burst of press when he dies. "Man who claimed immortality found dead on exercise bike at home."

    As to his consciousness argument, I see nothing new in there relative to any inclusive book on the subject.

"Call immediately. Time is running out. We both need to do something monstrous before we die." -- Message from Ralph Steadman to Hunter Thompson