Will Robots Have Souls?: Singularity and the Nerdpacolipse
There is a point of view among artificial intelligence researchers and speculators that human intelligence will be surpassed in a burst of development by machines, called the singularity. Others have referred fancifully to this event as the “nerdpocalypse,” obviously playing on the term apocalypse. A materialist view of the human mind is very compatible with this type of speculation. If human consciousness and intelligence can be reduced to the chemistry and physics of neurons, machines should, logically, arrive at the point of complexity in which they experience their own conscious intelligence. The first example of this sudden and surprising emergence of identity and agency is the computer HAL in Kubric’s 1968 epic film, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” HAL’s calm and chilling response to the astronaut’s request to save his life and open the pod doors was, “I am sorry, I don’t think I can do that, Dave,” and made the implications of artificial intelligence far from theoretical.
What is more interesting is keeping the non-materialist view of mind as a faculty of the non-physical soul. When machines display animal levels of intelligence, have they received an animal soul in the sense that Aristotle and St. Thomas described it? Will highly advanced machines – some of them large carbon based self replicating systems in water – have a “human” soul when they manifest a personality?
Some of the options are grim, like the Matrix in the 1999 movie of the same name which conquers and almost obliterates the human race. Others, like Marvin, the paranoid android ( who is also desperately depressed ) in Douglas Adams 1978 “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” show that the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation’s line of “real people personalities” was, maybe, not such a good idea. The computer which operates the Starship “Heart of Gold” and its infinite improbability drive has at least three very human and irritating personalities.
If and when artificial intelligence stops being artificial will we have created something in our own likeness or in God’s?