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Tiffany Ah Tye

Artificial Intelligence: Souled, or Forever a Machine?


For the past decade or so the matter of Artificial Intelligence has
been both a source of fascination and a source of dread. While some
believe that Artificial Intelligence is the technology of the future, others
think that Artificial Intelligence may be the death of us all. But why is
Artificial Intelligence so dangerous? If we created it, wouldnt we be
able to control the level of danger?
I think that the biggest flaw and fear in Artificial Intelligence is
the thought that you could have a machine that can think for itself, but
has no empathy, and no conscience. Which brings us to the big
question; what defines Artificial Intelligence from humanity? And vice
versa? Is humanity simply defined by being made of organic matter, or
does it go deeper than that? And finally, perhaps the most important
question (at least, philosophically) do Artificially Intelligent beings
have a soul? Depending on the philosophical view of the soul,
Artificially Intelligent beings could be souled.
In Lycans essay Machine Consciousness, he postulates that
Artificial Intelligence is much different from simply being a machine. He
states that, Artificial Intelligence is, very crudely, the science of
getting machines to perform jobs that normally require Intelligence and
judgment (123). Under this definition, machinery is vastly different
from Artificial Intelligence in that machines are simply programmed to

do something, and can only do what they are programmed to do,


whereas Artificially Intelligent machines will use thought and reasoning
when presented with the unknown. Artificially Intelligent machines may
even use feelings in order to reason. This blurred line makes it difficult
to discern whether or not Artificial Intelligence could ever be
considered human, or at least be considered a person.
The topic of a souled robot, however, is even more complex. If
most philosophers are to be believed, the only things that truly have
souls are organic, whether they are human, animal, or plant. Yet,
Lycan counteracts this by providing a thought-experiment in the form
of a human named Henrietta. He suggests that if Henrietta were to
slowly replace her limbs with prosthetic ones, and gradually become
more artifact than human, she would still have her consciousness.
Henrietta would essentially still have all of her human skills, likes and
dislikes, but she would no longer be organic. In that respect, Henrietta
would still be a person but she would no longer be human. Yet,
would she still be souled? Under the assumption that all human beings
are souled (this assumption is a general consensus among
philosophers), Henrietta would have had a soul to begin with, before
she started to adapt robotic parts. This brings about the question that
Lycan didnt necessarily directly address would Henrietta lose her
soul somewhere along the way simply because she is no longer
organic? Lycan addresses the loss of her consciousness, but does not

address the soul (though his definition of consciousness could be


argued to include the soul). This assumption of soul-loss would have to
maintain that the soul is indeed connected to the body in the way
Aristotle believed it to be.
However, in a dualist philosophers mind, this assumption would
be wrong. According to thinkers like Descartes and Plato, the soul and
body are two distinct things; though they are linked, they are not
linked inextricably. A dualist could make the argument that because
the soul and the body are separable, it would be possible for Henrietta
to still maintain her soul even after she became completely artificial.
Because Henrietta would still retain her mind, and her consciousness,
she would still have a soul. This could prove that the soul is in fact not
linked to the body as well for Henrietta to retain her personality and
virtues even as a machine would, in my mind, mean that she has
retained her soul as well.
This, in turn, brings up the definition of the soul. To know whether
or not a robot could be souled calls for a clear definition of the soul
which is not always easy to find. Different philosophers have different
definitions of the soul. For Aristotle, the soul is the living beings
capacity to grow, decay, have intellect, have perception, move and
rest, and self-nourish. In this definition of the soul, Harriet would no
longer be souled when she became a machine she would no longer
have any use for self-nourishment, and she would not be able to grow,

or decay in the natural sense of the word. Yet, in my opinion, this is not
the full definition of the soul. I find it harder to identify with Aristotles
version of the soul, because it is so intrinsically linked to the body that
it simply becomes part of the body, and is simply part of the bodys
functions.
Plato and Descartes definition of the soul is much more complex
firstly, they are dualists, and believe that the mind and the body are
two different entities, and live and die separately, though in life the
body is linked to the mind. They take a different approach to the soul
both, in their own way, believe that the soul deals with the mind, and
only maintains a slight link to the body. They mostly focus the fact that
the soul deals with not only intellect and perception, but also with
feelings, emotion, and virtue. While neither of them specifically
describe the soul, the general consensus seems to be that the soul
the emotive, virtuous soul, not the almost mechanical one described
by Aristotle is separate from the body in that it can exist without it;
the soul is immortal, while the body is not. Therefore, if the soul were
immortal, it would technically not matter if the body simply changed
from organic to robotic.
Some may argue against the fact that Henrietta is still souled,
using religion as a basis after all, many renowned and respected
philosophers include religion in their thought processes. Looking at it
from an unbiased point of view, though, it is difficult to argue against

the fact that Henrietta has retained her soul throughout her change.
For the first part, one would have to say exactly when Henrietta lost
her soul would it be at the first introduction of any sort of synthetic
material? In that case, all humans who have lost limbs and have
prosthetics are soulless, which cannot be true. Or is there a specific
time and body part that Henrietta would have to lose to make her
soulless? This is also disputable how could you pin one specific part
of the body that the soul is attached to? There simply isnt a way. Lycan
aptly puts this into words, saying, It is also hard to imagine that there
is some proportion of the nervous system such that removal of more
than that proportion causes loss of consciousness or sentience despite
perfect maintenance of all intelligent capacities (126).
However, this is simply pertaining to one circumstance and
example. While Henrietta could indeed be in our future, it is much
more likely that a more advanced form of simple Artificial Intelligence
would come before that. It is in this case that we question the
likelihood that a completely machine-made, non-organic Artificially
Intelligent being may have a soul. If a completely artificial, yet
humanly intelligent being were to be brought into the world, would it
be souled? This question is difficult because many definitions of the
soul, even the dualists, connect it to the body in some way or another,
whether distantly related or fully attached. While Henrietta may retain
her soul, would an Artificially Intelligent being gain one as soon as it

met certain requirements? It is hard to say, as many philosophers also


linked religion to their thinking, stating that God, or The Gods, had
placed us here on Earth, and had given us our souls and bodies. Going
off of this thought process, it could be said that we are like God to
these Artificially Intelligent beings that we have made after all, have
we not put them together and brought them to life? In this case, we
would have to give them souls as their God yet, as far as we know,
granting a being a soul is far beyond our reach. Or is it?
This again depends on the definition of the soul. In Aristotles
definition, no machine or robot, no matter how life-like or intelligent,
could ever have a soul simply because they do not grow and decay. We
cannot (yet) give machines the ability to grow and decay in the way
that humans do. But if we did, would that mean that they are souled in
Aristotles definition? If a machine could live and die, and be able to
take in some form of sustenance other than energy, would it have a
soul? In the basest form, the answer would have to be yes, as it fits
every definition of the soul that Aristotle gives.
Perhaps the question that should be asked is, Does a being have
to be a living, breathing organism in order to have a soul? While most
would immediately answer yes, at a closer look this is not one of the
criteria that Aristotle, Descartes, or Plato give for a being to have a
soul. Much of their thoughts on the soul revolve around the sentiments,
and feelings even Aristotles doesnt so much involve the body itself

as it does the things the body does. Therefore, it would be wrong to


assume that just because a robot is made of inorganic materials it
cannot have a soul. Yet, I believe that the biggest issue that most
people have with robots having souls is that they are unnatural they
are something that we have made; they are not birthed or grown.
Ultimately, there is no straight answer as to whether or not an
Artificially Intelligent being could have a soul, because there is no
straight definition of what the soul actually is. There is still debate on
the topic, and because as far as we know the soul is not tangible, there
may always be philosophical debate on the topic. However, what we
can conclude is that in many of the major philosophers definitions of
the soul, the soul neednt necessarily be attached to something
organic. We can also conclude that if a human were to turn into a
robot, they would still retain their soul, because there is no way of
telling when exactly the soul could be lost so it could be assumed
that it isnt lost at all. However, even though we have come to these
conclusions, there are still many roadblocks in the decision factor on
whether or not a robot can have a soul the biggest of which is simply
human uncertainty I believe that some people may never accept the
fact that a robot could have a soul, simply because that would allow
robots to become too close to being human, which is something that
almost every human fears; replacement.
Words: 1844