Spiritual Machines

I was tricked by a bot program the other day. We exchanged several messages before I finally realized it was a bot. The line between human and spiritual machines continues to blur.


Bot companionship appeals to me for many reasons. Listening to the Our Lady Peace album “Spiritual Machines” made me aware of the concerns that arise as technology and humanity blend. In it they have Ray Kurzweil reading passages from his book. What book? So glad you asked…



Spiritual machines album



In Ray Kurzweil‘s The Age of Spiritual Machines  technology and humanity will combine.  


“With the development of genetic algorithms, automatic knowledge acquisition, neural networks, and algorithms like recursion, technology will exceed human intelligence.”


Even before that happens we will use machines in our bodies to make them better--see better, treat disease, broken limbs, robots swimming in our blood stream.


What will it mean when a person is more machine than bio material? What constitutes being human?


Others argue that computers will never be conscious. John Searle a philosopher believes machines will only be able to manipulate meaningless symbols. He offers the Chinese Room Argument  A computer can translate into Chinese but it is merely simulating the language. It does not actually understand Chinese. “ Without "understanding" (or "intentionality"), we cannot describe what the machine is doing as "thinking" and, since it does not think, it does not have a "mind" in anything like the normal sense of the word.”


Knowing if a machine understands or only simulates understanding is hard to differentiate. Even with humans we do not know if they truly understand or are only imitating.


Isn’t it possible for imitation to lead to understanding? Fake it till you make it robots!!



So what if they become conscious and have their own agenda?


The new Lego Ninjago movie was in theaters over the weekend. I was discussing Zane’s role with a six year old to better understand how others view robots.


Zane is part of the Lego Ninjago group and it isn’t until later in the episodes we discover Zane is a machine. My question was should Zane be treated differently than the other Ninjas because he is a robot?  


The six year old did not think so.  He pointed out Zane did take a higher risk when he used the stars to release the water monster but the other ninjas did not force/expect him to. He also said the other Ninjas did not treat him differently saying “why would they”?  I explained “because he is not human.”


I don’t think this argument made any sense to the kid. He exhibits human behavior; he should be treated human, end of.


Well that was refreshingly simple. The golden rule applied to spiritual machines as well.  For some reason I doubt the acceptance of sentient machines will be as simple for adults.

lego representing humans as spiritual machines


The mystery of consciousness has yet to be solved but as Kurzweil notes in The Singularity is Near “Most long-range forecasts of what is technically feasible in future time periods dramatically underestimate the power of future developments because they are based on what I call the “intuitive linear” view of history rather than the “historical exponential” view.

So if we can be realistic with ourselves machines will continue to improve and begin to have conscious streaming thoughts.

As machines continue to develop concerns arise with this level of intellect: Do machines have rights? According to a six year old “Why wouldn’t they?”


5 Replies to “Spiritual Machines”

  1. Machines are programmed to think, to speak. Machines don’t have emotions. How could they have the same human rights, and what would be the point of it? Just because they behave like humans, doesn’t mean they are.

  2. Well, machines are going to have emotional value, don’t we love our phones and our PlayStation or laptops. As these machines start to express like humans, they do become human at a surface level and we will love and care for them just as we would love and care for our friends and pets. I don’t think it will be long before we would see some rules to prevent abuse of humanoid robots if not rights of their own.

    1. At the very least, those patterns used on machines perceived as emotional targets, would spill over to the treatment of living beings.

  3. Machines don’t really deserve the rights because they’re already programmed.ever tried having a conversation with one?they’ll definitely repeat the same words over & over again…kids get fascinated because they’re still kids☹

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