Robot theology

August 31, 2011 • 9:37 am

According to the description of this YouTube video, three researchers at the Cornell Creative Machines Lab hooked together two “chatbots” (chatterbots), each of which is programmed to respond to humans by engaging in conversation. What happens when they give each other input?

They produce theology!  Check out what happens 50 seconds into this short video:

Bot 1:  What is God to you?

Bot 2:  Not everything.

Bot 1:  Not everything could also be something.  For example, not everything could be half of something, which is still something, and therefore not nothing.

Bot 2:  Very true.

Bot 2:  I would like to imagine it is.

This comes perilously close to the ontological argument for God’s existence.

For a small expenditure on computer software, theologians could generate material for generations to come.

h/t:  “Just Al”

44 thoughts on “Robot theology

    1. And, sometimes, it’s even proof.

      For example, the absence of evidence of an angry herd of buffalo rampaging through my office as I type is proof of the nonexistence of such a herd.

      Particle physicists experience this all the time. If we’re lucky, we may even see it fairly soon with respect to the Higgs.

      (I write, “lucky,” because invalidating the current theory so spectacularly would open up all sorts of really exciting avenues for exploration — the exact same way that the absence of evidence in Michelson-Morley disproved the Aether and eventually led us to Relativity.)


      1. Maybe it would be good to reword it as “Absence of EXPECTED evidence is evidence of absence.”

        The word “expected” would immediately stand out and make the point self-explanatory.

  1. Electric Monk
    The idea of the Electric Monk was created by Douglas Adams in his book Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, [London, Pan, 1988], p. 3:

    The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device, like a dishwasher or a video recorder. Dishwashers washed tedious dishes for you, thus saving you the bother of washing them yourself, video recorders watched tedious television for you, thus saving you the bother of looking at it yourself; Electric Monks believed things for you, thus saving you what was becoming an increasingly onerous task, that of believing all the things the world expected you to believe.

    Unfortunately this Electric Monk had developed a fault, and had started to believe all kinds of things, more or less at random. It was even beginning to believe things they’d have difficulty believing in Salt Lake City.

    1. I tend to name thinks like portable drives and temporary folders, “Monk,” in tribute to DNA. If I need a second one — especially if it’s supposed to be empty — I’ll call it, “Nun.” I don’t remember needing a third, but I suppose I’d call it “Friar.”


    2. Some Buddhists spin prayer wheels which are supposed to do the praying for them. That way they can say more prayers and I’ve seen pictures of prayer wheels blown by the wind so you don’t even have to take the trouble to spin them yourself! How’s that for a time saving appliance?

      1. Considering prayer mills contain strips of paper, somebody really should cobble it together with mechanical audio reproduction.

        1. Rudyard Kipling wrote a story called (I think) ‘The Dynamo King’ where an industrialist discovered that the only way he could keep evil thoughts out of head was to make his prayer wheel spin faster, and faster, and faster…

  2. Whoa, hold on there!?! These things need to be turned off and they need to be turned off NOW!

    The search for ultimate truth is the inalienable prerogative of your working thinkers.


  3. I love it – thanks for this.
    As an aside I have repeatedly asked WolframAlpha the question “what is the multiverse?” but still no luck! But he is smart.

  4. Aside from anything else, these ‘bots are very aggressive. Downright jerks, in fact.

    No surprise they’ll eventually turn on their masters, then.

    1. Exactly what I was going to say. They’ve programmed a couple of twits there, yes they have. Reminds me of interactions between supposed humans on a certain biology blog I used to frequent. Now I’m wondering if that comment section really wasn’t taken over by a bunch of AI experiments.

    2. This is the uncanny valley applied to interpersonal communication.

      Maybe a therapist could name their social disorder.

  5. Back in the early days of computers, not too long after the first chess playing programs came out, the big deal was pitting two chess programs against each other. Now we’re doing essentially the same thing with chatbots. That’s progress!

          1. If the Wacom Inkling is any indication, the ability to update a website with a pencil is just around the corner.

  6. The fact is that they were programmed to interact with humans, and I suppose being in the USA a large percentage of those humans would have some godly belief. Had they been programmed in a European university, might they have had a different conversation, say about whether Barcelona would win the Champions League?

  7. And prayer flags too: The wind does their praying for them. Though they do seem an apt decoration at the high passes in Buddhist country, which in my experience, includes rural Scotland:

    Buddhist temple in Scotland (my scanner chopped it a bit; all scanned Kodachrome 64 (RIP))

    Thorung La, Jul-1991

    Prayer wheels and flags

    I have also been very impressed with the size and/or number of prayer stones carried to high places (and sometimes impressed with the artisitic quality as well).



    “Om Mani Padme Hum” writ large

    Prayer stones


  8. I will now read a passage from Paul’s first letter to the Robots: 0010110100001110101000110000110010010000010010110010100100111010101000111111111010101110110011010101110111011. Amen.

    For those who can’t decode robot, it says: Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.

    1. Ah, yes, but what’s far more interesting is the Robot’s Reply:


      Translated, “DIE HERETIC SCUM”



  9. Uhm is it just too obvious to say that this looks scripted? The two avatars clearly move their lips independently from words.

  10. This comes perilously close to the ontological argument for God’s existence.

    Not really. The Ontological Argument assumes that God must be the “greatest possible being.” As soon as the second bot declared that God wasn’t “everything” and the first bot pointed out that God could be less than everything — it could be half — then the greatness of God’s possibility is being diminished.

    Of course, since the bots are trying to figure out God by looking at the logic in the concepts, then they’re mimicking the a priori nature of the OA — which is probably where you saw the resemblance.

    The fact that the subject of religion was brought up so quickly makes me suspect that it’s a popular subject to discuss with chatbots. Are people looking for real answers? I’m not sure who uses these things, or why.

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