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Artificial Intelligence: Do robots have souls?

Updated on September 17, 2012

Robots in present day

Modern society is just years away from dealing with the issue of robot rights. To be more specific, the social issue of artificial intelligences (AIs) having their own sovereignty. In 2012 computer have already become fully integrated into human society. Eventually this technology will lead to true artificial intelligence. As AI research advances, robots will eventually become a huge part of society!

Robots in the near future

Most futurists give us less than fifty years before robots have fully exceeded human computing power. By that time a simple computer program will be able to write and rewrite other computer programs.This means robots will not be equal to humans in intelligence—they will far surpass us. Some groups that see and understand this have advocated for “friendly AI”. This is the concept that we must program all robots to be human-friendly. The flaw in “friendly AI” is obvious: a program that can rewrite itself clearly doesn't need to leave code in its program that gives it restrictions.

Another train of thought is that humans should abandon creating artificial intelligence altogether. I personally believe that this is an unreasonable plan. Creating any sort of law that restricts the development of AI will only push such research underground. The last thing society needs is a surprise robot takeover coming from someone's basement! Rather, we should admit the inevitability of technological progress and prepare for the coming experiences.

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Do robots have a soul?

Some people believe that a soul, or spirit, occupies the body while on Earth. It is eternal and it possibly existed before manifesting in the body. It will definitely exist upon leaving the body. The soul is the conscious entity that experiences life. It's the You behind your ego and misconceptions. These traits of a soul seem to be globally accepted while other aspects are still debated.

Using the above definition, I believe that robots are just as capable as any other being as a vehicle for a soul. If a soul can enter a robot and experience life as a robot, that fits my criteria for having a soul. Of course, this line of reasoning opens Pandora's box. If AIs have souls, then why should they not have equal human rights? (This question may pose a problem if we are still enslaving them to run our tasks of Internet searches, phone calls, etc.) Why can't a human be in love with a robot? (This concept might be more frightening if your child is telling you this!) And of course why couldn’t a robot run for political office (which might not be a bad idea)?


Possible future scenarios

There are three directions that AI may go and I believe it will likely attempt all three. The worst scenario is a complete takeover and domination of the human race as we know it. Just how we currently raise chickens and cattle to be slaughtered for our food, we may be a great source of energy and work to help them do whatever great things they want to do. Somewhere in the middle is a possible future where robots demand equal treatment with humans. This scenario would include letting them vote, run for office, employ humans to do work for income, and other interesting role reversals. The third direction is very human biased. We continue to use them to search the Internet, send text messages, and order food (to be delivered by a human or robot or both!).

Do robots have souls?

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Stigma about the Robots discussion

My friends usually laugh at me when I bring this issue up so I've resorted to the Internet. Thank you for reading this and considering the seriousness of AI. We must raise people's awareness of this coming issue by discussing it openly. We are closer than we realize to the possibility of advanced AIs making demands on us just as we have made demands on them.


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    • HowToLoveOne profile image

      Joshua Pine 5 years ago from San Francisco


      Yes you are correct that these ideas are hypothetical and speculative but so was the idea that the Earth is spherical until Aristotle and others built a case for it. I think it's wise to consider these ethical issues of transhumanism and artificial intelligence NOW while we still have time to have 'intelligent' discussion. A futurist's job is to consider possible upcoming issues that deeply impact society and encourage the public to work out any ethical issues involved. This is why I wrote this article... thanks for reading!

    • profile image

      Brendan 6 years ago

      Granted, this is all hypothetical and pure speculation.

    • HowToLoveOne profile image

      Joshua Pine 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Davesworld- Pull the plug on research? The momentum has already begun. We cannot stop the developers that intend to create artificial intelligence. To try would just push research underground (away from public view). Pull the plug on robots themselves? That's easy to do now while it's just a computer plugged into an outlet... ...however, once they are capable of self maintenance AND they are smarter than us, "pulling the plug" is out of the question.

      MurciélagoHeart- Why do some human souls chose a life of misery here on Earth? Why would other souls be any different?

      Tachikoma- Of course but what's the difference between an "artificial" soul and a "real" one? Thanks for the G.I.T.S., to date I had only heard of: Battle Star Galactica, I Robot, A.I., Plug & Pray and...?

    • profile image

      Tachikoma 6 years ago

      Couldn't a soul be created on its own? An atrificial soul? At some point becoming self something more then just data? The anime "ghost in the shell" pokes at the idea of self-referential logical paradox.

    • MurciélagoHeart profile image

      MurciélagoHeart 6 years ago from San Francisco

      No they don't. I doubt any soul would want to be reincarnated into my iPhone and be stuck there indefinitely, hoping to die or run out of batteries so it can move on to new experiences, but I'm not the baba spiritual robotics guru master either.

    • Davesworld profile image

      Davesworld 6 years ago from Cottage Grove, MN 55016

      You can always pull the plug.