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Robot: Child of God

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  • Anne Forest
    Do robots have souls? The aim of those of us who do research in artificial intelligence is to construct a machine with humanlike intelligence. We dream of
    Message 1 of 2 , Jun 6, 2006
      Do robots have souls?


      The aim of those of us who do research in artificial intelligence is to construct a machine with humanlike intelligence. We dream
      of Commander Data, the fictional hero of the Starship Enterprise.
      What a piece of engineering! How wonderful to build a robot like
      that. Should that prove feasible, I for one would regard him (or it)
      as having the attributes of personhood and dignity just like
      ourselves.

      In one of the episodes of Star Trek, the Enterprise crew decides
      that Data is so useful to them that it is desirable to have more of
      the same. They decide to disassemble him to find out how he works,
      then rebuild him and produce copies. Data is at first intrigued by
      the idea, but then realizes that the procedure is less than safe.
      Fearing for his own existence, he decides to resign from the
      Enterprise command. Here the question of Data's personhood comes up:
      Can he even resign? Does he have the right to choose, or is he
      merely a machine without any rights--the property of Star Fleet?

      The arguments go back and forth. The discussion boils down to the
      question of whether or not Data has a soul. Indeed, do we ourselves
      have "souls"? The final decision is that Data has as much right as
      we do to search for his own soul. Data participates in the human
      community; he has friends and a sexual relationship; he is loved as
      a person and is not regarded by most crew members as a mere machine.
      Any robot which is like us, and is accepted by humans as one of us,
      is a person.

      Much has been written about the anthropomorphization of tools such
      as cars and stereos. Today, electronic gadgets like Tamagotchies or
      Furbies continue this trend. People in Western societies are quite
      willing to treat as living beings certain machines displaying social
      behaviors like Tamagotchie's hunger or Furbie's "learning" of
      language. Because of this trend, AI researchers, most of them fans
      of Star Trek anyway, usually agree with the judgment that Data is a
      person. They base this on the way people accept technologies into
      their lives and are willing to create a society in which technology
      and humans play interdependent and mutually benefiting roles.

      At the same time, the researchers see themselves as a safeguard
      against too much projection. Since they understand and repair the
      machines and know exactly how they function, they are much less
      likely to treat them as more than they actually are. They warn
      against too much anthropomorphization and define the borders between
      gadgets and persons. They are those most likely to know when a
      machine oversteps the boundary and becomes something "more than a
      machine."

      But what could this mythical "more than" be? In the Jewish and
      Christian tradition, human specialness is symbolized in the metaphor
      that humans are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26, 27). The
      majority of Jewish and Christian theologians have attempted to
      identify the divine part of humankind with particular empirical
      features: our creativity; our use of language, logic, and reason;
      the human ability to think in an abstract way; even our humor, or
      just the way we look.

      But I see it differently. Theology today often concentrates on the
      biblical testimony that the concept of God should incorporate
      aspects of both man and woman. This metaphor illustrates that we are
      images of God only within gender relationships, or to put it more
      generally, within functioning and beneficial communications. This
      process of continuing communication, of relationship and
      interaction, is what makes us images of God. God's promise to start
      and maintain a relationship with us by creating us in God's image
      enables us to create community and to live wholesome relationships.

      In this metaphorical and communicative interpretation of the
      creation of humans, God's promise marks the beginning of the
      relationship between God and humans and between man and woman. It is
      God's promise, and not some empirical feature, which makes us
      special and gives us a specific role within creation. It is God's
      creation of us that assigns value and personhood to each individual.

      In the light of this understanding of human specialness, I would
      have a hard time not to assign personhood to a creature possessing
      the appropriate degree of complexity. If a being is understood as a
      partner and friend, it seems hard to take this attribute of value,
      assigned to it by its friends, away. Instead of insisting on a
      qualitative difference between us and the machines AI will create,
      it seems more reasonable to turn the question around. Not
      reflections on "why a machine never can become like us," but instead
      the question of what might be the conditions under which God would
      accept such a creature as God's child. Then we will recognize the
      arrogance some people display when denying dignity to other
      creatures.

      God's promise to creation is universal--this is the biblical
      tradition. It is not our place to exclude people from the community,
      be it because of their race, their gender, their capabilities, or
      their worldviews. The reflections about Commander Data as a child of
      God might help us to remember in humility that each and every
      person's value is grounded not in his or her abilities but in God's
      promise and in that alone. The fictional Data might thus serve as a
      thinking tool to prepare us for the AI machines to come.

      From God for the 21st Century, Russell Stannard, ed., "Robot: Child
      of God," by Anne Foerst (Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press,
      2000). Used without permission. God for the 21st Century


      AF
    • milwaukeepdidie
      Yes Robot do have souls, it is in my belief that anything that requires thought, has a soul, simple as that. You can look at your computer and see that it has
      Message 2 of 2 , Jun 13, 2006
        Yes Robot do have souls, it is in my belief that anything that
        requires thought, has a soul, simple as that. You can look at your
        computer and see that it has something more to it than just a screen
        and cpu, its curves, its buttons,it insides, all required thoughts
        to design and come up with. But what we will have to face as we
        progress AIs is that we regard them as something we created, and
        respect them as such. This remines me of a(used)car i had that would
        break down whenever I talked about it, then after I would choux it
        it would start, once someone knocked on car saying my bumper was
        falling off, then the car stalled, and rolled backward all most
        hitting the person who said it.


        --- In Artificial-Life@yahoogroups.com, "Anne Forest" <a.forest@...>
        wrote:
        >
        >
        >
        >
        > Do robots have souls?
        >
        >
        > The aim of those of us who do research in artificial intelligence
        is to construct a machine with humanlike intelligence. We dream
        > of Commander Data, the fictional hero of the Starship Enterprise.
        > What a piece of engineering! How wonderful to build a robot like
        > that. Should that prove feasible, I for one would regard him (or
        it)
        > as having the attributes of personhood and dignity just like
        > ourselves.
        >
        > In one of the episodes of Star Trek, the Enterprise crew decides
        > that Data is so useful to them that it is desirable to have more of
        > the same. They decide to disassemble him to find out how he works,
        > then rebuild him and produce copies. Data is at first intrigued by
        > the idea, but then realizes that the procedure is less than safe.
        > Fearing for his own existence, he decides to resign from the
        > Enterprise command. Here the question of Data's personhood comes
        up:
        > Can he even resign? Does he have the right to choose, or is he
        > merely a machine without any rights--the property of Star Fleet?
        >
        > The arguments go back and forth. The discussion boils down to the
        > question of whether or not Data has a soul. Indeed, do we ourselves
        > have "souls"? The final decision is that Data has as much right as
        > we do to search for his own soul. Data participates in the human
        > community; he has friends and a sexual relationship; he is loved as
        > a person and is not regarded by most crew members as a mere
        machine.
        > Any robot which is like us, and is accepted by humans as one of us,
        > is a person.
        >
        > Much has been written about the anthropomorphization of tools such
        > as cars and stereos. Today, electronic gadgets like Tamagotchies or
        > Furbies continue this trend. People in Western societies are quite
        > willing to treat as living beings certain machines displaying
        social
        > behaviors like Tamagotchie's hunger or Furbie's "learning" of
        > language. Because of this trend, AI researchers, most of them fans
        > of Star Trek anyway, usually agree with the judgment that Data is a
        > person. They base this on the way people accept technologies into
        > their lives and are willing to create a society in which technology
        > and humans play interdependent and mutually benefiting roles.
        >
        > At the same time, the researchers see themselves as a safeguard
        > against too much projection. Since they understand and repair the
        > machines and know exactly how they function, they are much less
        > likely to treat them as more than they actually are. They warn
        > against too much anthropomorphization and define the borders
        between
        > gadgets and persons. They are those most likely to know when a
        > machine oversteps the boundary and becomes something "more than a
        > machine."
        >
        > But what could this mythical "more than" be? In the Jewish and
        > Christian tradition, human specialness is symbolized in the
        metaphor
        > that humans are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26, 27). The
        > majority of Jewish and Christian theologians have attempted to
        > identify the divine part of humankind with particular empirical
        > features: our creativity; our use of language, logic, and reason;
        > the human ability to think in an abstract way; even our humor, or
        > just the way we look.
        >
        > But I see it differently. Theology today often concentrates on the
        > biblical testimony that the concept of God should incorporate
        > aspects of both man and woman. This metaphor illustrates that we
        are
        > images of God only within gender relationships, or to put it more
        > generally, within functioning and beneficial communications. This
        > process of continuing communication, of relationship and
        > interaction, is what makes us images of God. God's promise to start
        > and maintain a relationship with us by creating us in God's image
        > enables us to create community and to live wholesome relationships.
        >
        > In this metaphorical and communicative interpretation of the
        > creation of humans, God's promise marks the beginning of the
        > relationship between God and humans and between man and woman. It
        is
        > God's promise, and not some empirical feature, which makes us
        > special and gives us a specific role within creation. It is God's
        > creation of us that assigns value and personhood to each
        individual.
        >
        > In the light of this understanding of human specialness, I would
        > have a hard time not to assign personhood to a creature possessing
        > the appropriate degree of complexity. If a being is understood as a
        > partner and friend, it seems hard to take this attribute of value,
        > assigned to it by its friends, away. Instead of insisting on a
        > qualitative difference between us and the machines AI will create,
        > it seems more reasonable to turn the question around. Not
        > reflections on "why a machine never can become like us," but
        instead
        > the question of what might be the conditions under which God would
        > accept such a creature as God's child. Then we will recognize the
        > arrogance some people display when denying dignity to other
        > creatures.
        >
        > God's promise to creation is universal--this is the biblical
        > tradition. It is not our place to exclude people from the
        community,
        > be it because of their race, their gender, their capabilities, or
        > their worldviews. The reflections about Commander Data as a child
        of
        > God might help us to remember in humility that each and every
        > person's value is grounded not in his or her abilities but in God's
        > promise and in that alone. The fictional Data might thus serve as a
        > thinking tool to prepare us for the AI machines to come.
        >
        > From God for the 21st Century, Russell Stannard, ed., "Robot: Child
        > of God," by Anne Foerst (Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press,
        > 2000). Used without permission. God for the 21st Century
        >
        >
        > AF
        >
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