12 May, 2008

Hardware and Software

I've been thinking about the whole "Nature versus Nurture" debate.

If I look back over a few of the recent posts regarding memories, human nature and some of my recent discussions with people about religious concepts and metaphysics, there are a few common threads that seem to appear.

One of the things that has been a common theme in science fiction over the last few years has been a notion that machines are on the verge of an evolutionary breakthrough. It's only a matter of time before machines reach a critical point where they become capable of learning for themselves, and not long after that when they'll achieve self awareness.

If a machine is able to perceive itself, learn from it's environment, and make adjustments to improve it's station with regard to that new data. Does it become like us? How do we determine the difference?

Does a computer have a buddha nature? When artifical intelligence does become a part of our lives, will it have a soul? What is a soul?

It all goes back to the same questions, and all of those questions can be answered by defining the relative parts. But the term that seems to have the strongest defences against definition is "soul".

In a human body, nature is the hardware, nurture is the software. Nature gives us the body through genetics and nurture gives us the ethics, the social acumen, and even the knowledge that helps us use that body. In many cases, we get both of these from our parents.

Buddhism states that we are nothing but the sum of our experiences. If we choose to experience enough things in a specific field then we become attuned to that field.

Gnostics believed that we were souls trapped in mortal shells, learning through the physical world so that we might transcend it.

Other forms of Christianity choose not to define the soul at all. It seems a bit of a cop out.

If the theories of science fiction come to pass...if electronic life becomes the next dominant form on the planet, what will they perceive of us? We can assume that they'll have the same drive for self improvement, this is a natural instinct that has continued throughout eternity.

Is heaven simply going to be a chance to upload our consciousness into a digital paradise, kind of like the matrix, but without leaving our physical bodies behind to empower great enslaving machines?

Is hell going to be a struggle against those machines when the time of apocalypse dawns?

It's certainly not the way that most fundamentalist Christians or other religious groups might see the end times.

If we transcend our biological hardware, will we still be the people we are today? Will our souls still have relevance?

I don't have the answer, but I'll keep thinking about it.
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