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Danger Lampost

Futurist & Technology Consultant,


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What would make a good Turing Test for the Soul?

In the movie "2001, A Space Odyssey", Stanley Kubrick presents us with the HAL-9000 computer with a seemingly human like consciousness. This question pre-supposes that we will be able to create a computing device of a similar sort that would behave to all the world like a human consciousness.

What it feels like to be this consciousness is an interesting question. You could ask it and listen to what it says. Could you trust what it says though?

Alan Turing devised a deviously clever test: You'd sit someone down at a keyboard and ask them to converse with a personality on the other side, and solely through the conversation, determine whether they are talking with a piece of software or a real human.

Let's say we have succeeded in building such a software system that could pass the Turing Test and fool any and all questioners - impossible to differentiate from a real human solely based on the conversation.

Let's kick it up a notch now and ask: What test could you devise to determine whether the software system had a soul? Or to put it another way for effect, what evidence might you present to a court of law to argue that pulling the plug on such a software system was tantamount to murder? Suppose *you* were this software system, arguing with a court of law that they should not pull the plug on you. What arguments would you make?


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    Mar 30 2013: one of my favorite movies. I wonder if the perfect HAL-9000, capable of no error had any idea what being human is,what it feels like? surely while observing human behavior this made no logical sense to HAL-9000. BUT, If we did, would man have had to shut it down?

    I think you are addressing two things that make us human, mind and brain. The brain is concrete, physical. it speaks in electric currents generated by the biochemical process. now the mind is abstract, spiritual, intuitive (this is where the knowledge my soul lives)

    ok so you are writing programs for a machine that rivals or exceeds human intelligence, the brain. How exciting! However, this is all well and good so long as you always keep in mind that when using this machine's programs neither is it constitutive or sufficient for minds. We must remember that Programs don't have semantics. Programs have only syntax, and syntax is insufficient for semantics. Every mind has semantics. Therefore..... programs are not minds. agree?

    Your Turing test; I would ask your computer on trial questions that begin with........... What does it feel like? I guarantee you that the answer would be a perfectly constructed response with no reference to" meaning".

    Computers are wonderful and helpful tools , period

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      Mar 30 2013: I love your proposed Turing Test! "What does it feel like to..."

      I do disagree with your assessment of syntax versus semantics though. All languages, by definition, have both syntax and semantics - even the artificial ones that computers use. As computer scientists, we study syntax versus semantics in undergraduate studies. [See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syntax_(programming_languages)#Syntax_versus_semantics.]

      As your Turing Test questions were about what it feels like to do something, perhaps by semantics, you mean that feeling-like quality, and when you use the word 'mind', is that equivalent for you to the word 'soul'?

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