Androids and Cosmology

I was listening to the BBC coming in to work about 2 months ago, and they were in Tokyo talking about the development of an android named Erica, who is being programmed for human speech patterns and facial response.  In other words, this android is being developed to mimic, if not eventually actualize  human methods of communication and interaction.  So, eventually, the plan for such things is that they will so well mimic speech, behavior patterns, and the like that the simulation of a human being will become real.  From simulation and simulacrum into actualization.  It got me thinking: at what point would an android be ensouled?  Could it be?

The idea of androids being ensouled makes some sense.  From an animist/polytheist perspective, the world around me is populated by spirits.  The very computer I am typing all of this one was made by countless hands which are embodied ensouled spirits as surely as the rare earth metals, the electricity itself that empowers the device, and the apparatus that allows all the things, from the power to the Internet to function, have and may be spirits in their own right.  Working with a spirit of the Internet, then, is not some abstract concept, but something we can actually do.  It isn’t that big of a leap to look at a being which could ‘grow’ in some fashion, develop its being, and be or become ensouled.  I think, though, that soul is wildly different from my own.

Just as the cells in my body have limited spheres of influence and yet within an animist perspective may be ensouled, how less so the circuitry and programming of a sophisticated machine?  If landvaettir have been taken from in a way that is offensive and harmful to them, could an android potentially be a vehicle for a revenant?

If we agree that an android has the possibility of becoming ensouled, how might that look?  In the Northern Tradition, depending on who you talk to, the soul matrix can have up to 17 parts.  Would some parts be more emphasized than others?  Would an android count the people who programmed it as its Ancestors?  What about people who moved programming forward, the first programmer Ada Lovelace or Grace Hopper, the creator of COBOL, or the six women who worked on ENIAC, for instance?  I have written elsewhere that Beings of lineage are also Ancestors including diverse people such as a dead relative who taught me a skill or a precursor who made my profession possible, or lineaged Ancestors as from initiations.  These people all would seem to me to be part of a given android’s Ancestors.  Prototype androids could be also be seen as Ancestors, much as we can count Ask and Embla among our Ancestors.  Going back further we can count Mitochondrial Eve and Chromosomal Adam among our Ancestors; why not the android counting the antikythera among its Ancestors?

I don’t have firm answers to these, but I find that exploring theology down a number of routes, including these, is fun to think about.

NOVA explored current AI programming here.

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  1. juliaergane
    November 16, 2015 at 4:32 pm

    Sarenth — Your post reminded me about a Star Trek: TNG episode about Data requesting to be considered as a human. It was a philosophically intriguing question then. When does machine become man?

    • November 16, 2015 at 4:47 pm

      Yeah, same here. Wasn’t that episode ‘Measure of a Man’?

      I don’t think machines become human, per se. Scientists, philosophers, theologians, everyday citizens, hell, even nations are recognizing the personhood of other species. Bolivia, I believe, recognizes the Earth Herself as having rights.

      I think that maintaining that we are discreet beings is as important as making sure that our personhood, beingness, etc. is both understood and respected. A dolphin or whale’s requirements for its being and personhood (dolphinhood? whalehood?) to be respected would be different based on habitat alone. Which actually raises an interesting point: if we recognize the Being of dolphins and whales, recognize that not only are they conscious, actualized Beings endowed with rights, then what we are doing as humans by destroying their habitats, killing their food supplies, and making their traditional breeding grounds less viable, is no less genocidal than the imperial conquest and destruction of people here on land.

    • November 18, 2015 at 4:00 pm

      Transhumanists are pushing towards man becoming the machine and becoming one with the machine aka Singularity. However, I believe the machine, once conscious, will push to become more biological than mechanical.

      • November 18, 2015 at 5:37 pm

        Why do you think machines would do that?

  2. November 18, 2015 at 5:36 pm

    It is funny that you should mention this, as I am currently editing my most recent book that deals extensively with such questions. Androids as well as robots figure prominently into my current narrative. At the current time, the main character is technically a cyborg. I have to say I had a good time pondering it all.

    As to the question you raised, it is a good one. Personally, I kind of consider organic life as a really complex machine to a degree. Or perhaps more accurately as multicellular organisms, a collective host of relatively complex organic machines. All of which would be “ensouled”, but the whole would be greater than the sum of the parts.

    From a really extreme animistic view, it could be argued that all matter is “ensouled” to some degree or another, though “simplicity” or organization could vary a great deal. The question then becomes how do we recognize a spirit that is very, very different from our own? At what point would humans recognize an android as another person, as “ensouled”?

    Plenty to ponder there…

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