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Ghosts in the Machine



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“Ghosts In The Machine”was an annual collection of fourteen reports, generated by the highest council of Mortal Engines until the year 1977. Since then, the whereabouts of the reports and the “ghosts” that were supposedly discovered by them are unknown…

With a focus on cybernetics, computers, hypothetical machine consciousness, and the social response to these, the reports ensured the survival of the human race. In addition to speculating on sociological effects, the reports explored some of the philosophical problems computers and cybernetics are likely to cause in the future.

For example, would human beings recognize conscious machine intelligence as having equivalent human rights so that it could not be arbitrarily turned off (murder) nor told what to do (slavery)? What, if anything, would constitute an equivalent human being having similar rights? We can, perhaps, imagine a computer that simulates conscious thought, but can we imagine one possessing an unconscious?

Could it dream and be motivated by unconscious needs? And without such experience, could it have a subjective dimension or even use language the way human beings do? These and many more questions were possibly answered by the reports. Faced with the possibility of a conscious computer, the perennial question of “who am I” must be treated with new evidence.

The central consideration in the reports is whether a machine intelligence can possess a self or a soul. The Christian (Western) notion of the soul (and the allied questions of what constitutes a self or what constitutes a person) is not as simple and culturally self-evident as it initially appears to be.

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