computers have no souls!

From: Damien Broderick (
Date: Thu Jan 27 2000 - 17:40:25 MST

Did my standard Spikish number last night at the local free Municipal
Library, to a motley audience of 12 or 15. Several corpulent science
fiction fans were in evidence, who looked at first like a support team if I
started being heckled by the pensioners. Instead, 0ne of them, a youngish
woman, soon began to mutter, smirk, roll her eyes and then declaim when we
got to the AIs. The uploads took her over the edge. Her consort seemed
slightly embarrassed by her fervor.

All nonsense, she cried, you just want a world of soulless cyborgs. A
computer can't do anything of its own accord, a computer can't have
consciousness. Oh? Why not? *It's not alive! It can only do what it's
programmed to do. I'm a sociologist! I'm a utilitarian! I'm a sociologist
and I'm here to tell you that computers can't do anything unless they are
programmed to do it.* And so on.

I mentioned that she was also programmed, by genes and culture, and she got
highly indignant. I was trying to pretend she was a machine! She did things
*just because she wanted to*! She'd broken away from the restrictions of
her social upbringing etc etc. Not very much, you haven't, I said, and her
face swelled attractively. No, I said, what I mean is... you're speaking
English now, aren't you? You're wearing clothing not unlikely the garments
we all wear. I see no Zulu hat upon your head.

By this point I suppose I was patently a tool of hell, except that
presumably she didn't actually believe in hell or souls, just in `life'. I
went sideways. Suppose we insert a very thin tube into a person's head and
replace a single neuron with a-- Ah, yes, you'd like to do that, wouldn't
you, your type! Chop people's brains up, turn them into machines without
souls. No, hang on, let's say you just did this with a mouse-- I could see
her delighted confirmation as my gleeful robotic cruelty to our dumb animal
brethren was shamelessly revealed. And so on. Altogether frustrating,
because presumably she wasn't stupid or unimaginative (she read some sort
of sf, after all). It was a salutary experience, giving me some sense of
what the *real* opposition might be like, out there in the world in its
teeming blithering bigoted billions. Urp.

Damien (not a sociologist)

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