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.