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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: It's a great question to ask "what is a soul?" One of the elegantly beautiful things about Turing's original test, is that he essentially defined a test for consciousness without defining what consciousness is. In a similar manner, I am hoping we can develop a "Turing Test for the Soul" without having to define what a soul is.

    For some people, they take it as an unquestioned axiom that only a human being can have a soul, perhaps because that is what their religious tradition has taught them. I think that for such people this may not be a very interesting question, and their Turing Test for the Soul would simply be, "Are you Human? Then you have a soul, and if you are not Human, then you don't have a soul."

    If you believe, as some people do, that we will eventually have the technology to "upload" ourselves to silicon hardware or other artificial computing hardware, then this may one day not be such a moot question.
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        Mar 31 2013: I believe you are saying that the words "soul" and "mind" can be used interchangeably. Is that correct?

        If so, can you tell me why that is significant or what the implication is?

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