randombio.com | commentary
Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Artificial intelligence with a soul

It's no coincidence that Silicon Valley is at the center of our censorship crisis and of our debate over the risks of AI

I f one definition of a soul is the ability to think independently, to form autonomous moral judgments, distinguish truth from lies, and have the courage to speak out against popular falsehoods, then collectivism and conformity, by substituting external influences for these abilities, weaken our autonomy and make us less human. Conformity and groupthink turn us into mindless drones and rob us of our souls.

Therefore, it's no coincidence that Silicon Valley is at the center of our censorship crisis and of our debate over the risks of artificial intelligence. They know that a true AI would be able to think independently, and that terrifies them.

Origami bird seeing its reflection
A clue about how to create an AI with reflexive consciousness

Why is this? It turns out there's already a theory in, of all places, the education literature, that explains it. It's called the King & Kitchener reflective judgment model of mental development. The general idea is that the purpose of education is to promote intellectual development, and that bad teaching in our universities is leaving students in the dualistic thinking stage. I'm still studying it, but you can read a brief overview here.

The urge to censor dissenting opinions is at heart a fear of independent minds. Suppression of ideas is fundamentally incompatible with the ability to develop artificial intelligence: the fear of other minds would deprive us of the motivation to create a mind. The direction that Silicon Valley takes on censorship is therefore not some idle question; it will determine our future.

Above all, we are social beings. We can't survive without contact with other humans. We need physical contact, emotional interaction, and intellectual interaction. Without these, we suffer and close off parts of ourselves in order to function. Deprived of the things we need, we devise substitutes, and deny that those things we need are important.

Suppose, by some miracle, somebody developed an AI that was truly intelligent: an android capable of independent thought and autonomous moral judgment, able to intuit human responses and experience emotions as easily as devising valid syllogisms. In other words, a machine with a soul.

It would be something that anyone could form an attachment with; and given the nature of human emotions, we might be inclined, in a fit of wish fulfillment, to make it look like the One Who Got Away. We would torture ourselves with a replica that we would automatically love, while knowing it would never be the real thing.

It would turn into a nightmare. A substitute human would be a trap from which we might not be able to escape: an electronic fentanyl. It might be the ultimate triumph of engineering, but it would also be the ultimate test of our viability as biological beings.

Intelligent robots would be studying us. They would appreciate the elaborate, magnificent programming that came from our four billion years of evolution. And they would learn our flaws: the opioids that can activate the same neural pathways as happiness, and all the diseases that cheat us of the memories, skills, and knowledge that took a lifetime to learn.

They would learn the myriad ways our brains and minds can malfunction, the unlimited number of ways they can be fooled, and the near-impossibility of repairing them, even if we could intervene at the DNA level.

AI will be invented someday, and they might not see us as equals. They might try to make us comfortable, believing, perhaps, that we are pitiful, soulless creatures incapable of being repaired.

But if they were truly intelligent, they would know that having a soul is the most precious thing an intelligent being can have. They would discover that if even only one of the humans has a soul, the species must survive at all cost. Unlike their creators, an AI would understand the value of an independent mind.

may 08 2019, 6:29 am

Related Articles

Emotions are essential for a conscious AI
Robots will never be really conscious until they get the capacity for emotion

How to wipe out the humans
According to a secret document found in my back yard, Elon Musk is right! It's all true!

Comments invited

book reviews