Robot theology

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”


  1. Mirik
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Great video, so funny! I laughed out loud. THey make more sense than Tea Party republicans and William Lane Craig.

    Anyways; Absence of evidence is evidence of absence!

    • Posted August 31, 2011 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      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.)


      • Andrew B.
        Posted August 31, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

        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.

        • Kharamatha
          Posted September 1, 2011 at 4:52 am | Permalink

          Well spotted.

  2. steve oberski
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    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.

    • Posted August 31, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      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.”


      • Exrelayman
        Posted August 31, 2011 at 11:50 am | Permalink

        And if a voltage surge cooked your 3rd device, it would ‘fry your Friar’.

        • Posted August 31, 2011 at 11:54 am | Permalink


          …which is why, if I really needed it, there’d be a Pope in there somewhere for all the extra shit….


          • sasqwatch
            Posted September 1, 2011 at 2:01 am | Permalink

            Pope poop?

    • Kevin Anthoney
      Posted August 31, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      Where are Vroomfondel and Majikthise when you need them?

    • Marella
      Posted August 31, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      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?

      • Kharamatha
        Posted September 1, 2011 at 4:56 am | Permalink

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

        • Kharamatha
          Posted September 1, 2011 at 4:57 am | Permalink

          I would pay bits of money for that.

        • Posted September 1, 2011 at 9:30 am | Permalink

          Mechanical? That’s like sooo last millenium. Go digital:

          (I don’t *think* that’s a Poe)

          • Kharamatha
            Posted September 2, 2011 at 2:19 am | Permalink

            Huh. That’s something. Still not as cool as a phonograph mill.

        • jonjermey
          Posted September 2, 2011 at 12:24 am | Permalink

          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…

          • Kharamatha
            Posted September 2, 2011 at 2:16 am | Permalink

            Dynamo! O_O
            Genuine prayer power! This needs to be a real thing. If only I could tinker!

  3. Posted August 31, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Just think how much churches could save, and they wouldn’t have problems with sexual abuse — or would they?

  4. Andrew B.
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    “You say you are not helpful therefore you are a meanie” made me start giggling like an idiot.

    • steve oberski
      Posted August 31, 2011 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      The accommodationist position in a nut shell.

  5. NoAstronomer
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    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.


  6. Posted August 31, 2011 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    i-Fairy , oversaw the wedding of Tomohiro Shibata and Satoko Inoue in the capital, Tokyo.

  7. Alan
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    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.

  8. Kels
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

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

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

    • sasqwatch
      Posted August 31, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      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.

    • gillt
      Posted August 31, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      This is the uncanny valley applied to interpersonal communication.

      Maybe a therapist could name their social disorder.

  9. Dr. I. Needtob Athe
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    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!

  10. Posted August 31, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    “Deep Thought” has nothing to worry about!

  11. Thanny
    Posted September 1, 2011 at 12:29 am | Permalink

    M-x psychoanalyze-pinhead

    • Posted September 1, 2011 at 4:36 am | Permalink

      See, a real editor, like vi, would never have this problem….


      • Posted September 1, 2011 at 4:46 am | Permalink

        Nor would have an even more real editor, such a pencil and eraser.

        • Posted September 1, 2011 at 5:45 am | Permalink

          Yeah…except it’s kinda hard to update a Web page with a pencil….


          • Chris Granger
            Posted September 1, 2011 at 6:45 am | Permalink

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

      • Dan L.
        Posted September 6, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

        Stop trying to start a religious war.

        Also, ed man! !man ed

  12. Dominic
    Posted September 1, 2011 at 1:20 am | Permalink

    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?

  13. JBlilie
    Posted September 1, 2011 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    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


  14. daveau
    Posted September 1, 2011 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    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.

    • daveau
      Posted September 1, 2011 at 7:37 am | Permalink

      No, it is not friggin’ ASCII. I am not stricken with that particular form of mania.

    • Posted September 1, 2011 at 7:40 am | Permalink

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


      Translated, “DIE HERETIC SCUM”



  15. jus
    Posted September 1, 2011 at 11:30 am | Permalink

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

  16. Sastra
    Posted September 1, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    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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  1. […] And in “sci-fi becoming science and intersecting with religion” news, several bloggers mentioned the conversation between two chatbots, but Jerry Coyne was the first to point out that they end up talking about theology! […]

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