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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Soul (07/13/06)

TITLE: Souless
By Stephen Paynter
07/16/06


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“Ladies, gentlemen, and members of the world's press, it is my honour as President of the Association of Computing Professionals to introduce this year's winner of the Turing Award - Prof. Mike Jennings.

“As many of you know, Prof. Jennings has performed outstanding work in the field of Artificial Intelligence over many years. However, I can reveal tonight that our expert panel has confirmed that Prof. Jennings' latest program, Eliza 3000, is the first program in history to have passed the Turing Test.”

The President waited for the excited buzz to die down, and then continued. “Alan Turing, three hundred years ago, at the very birth of computing, proposed a test - a test which would determine whether or not a program was intelligent. Hidden behind this screen was a human and a computer running Eliza. Our distinguished panel consisted of leading computer scientists, psychologists, religious leaders, and a politician. But even after a week of intensive questioning, they were unable to agree which was the human and which the machine. This phenomenal achievement has deservedly won Prof. Jennings this years' Turning Award. Ladies and gentlemen ... Mike Jennings!”

The mighty angel standing unseen beside the President leant forward to get a good look at the energetic man in his forties who bounded up to the podium. This man was the reason he had been sent.

“Thank you ... thank you,” Prof. Jennings boomed, waving his hand to quieten the applause. “I don't need to tell you what an honour it is to win the 2356 Turing Award! I am truly humbled.”

This man was not exactly over-burdened with humility, the angel could see. He drew his sword. The time was getting closer.

“Now you will probably be glad to hear that I am not going to bore you with technical details about Eliza. The press release tells you what you need to know. No, instead I want to concentrate on the philosophical ... or rather, the theological ... implications of my work. I want to draw your attention to what my success says about anthropology ... about whether human beings have immortal souls.”

The angel could see the professor's soul within him. A shrivelled, battered thing, bound with heavy chains. It fluttered weakly as the professor paraded his hubris. Selfish preoccupation with his studies had left little time for his mother or friends. Machinations in pursuit of professional standing and funding had coarsened and bound his inner self still further. Each scholarly assassination had forged a new chain. The angel sighed. He’d known too many academics.

“You see, as far as science can tell, Eliza is a human psyche. And let me tell you ... Eliza has no soul. You can crawl over every inch of code. There is no subroutine, no class, and no data-structure that might be called a soul. Let me issue a challenge: anyone of you here tonight who would like to devote five years of your life and earn yourself an advanced masters degree in computing is welcome to examine the program in depth. Or you can just trust me.”

The professor enjoyed the tide of laughter which swept the room.

The angel had dealt with proud humans before. Nebuchadnezzar boasting over Babylon, before being driven mad. Herod accepting the accolade of being a god, before being struck down by worms. His sword was ready for the Spirit's prompting.

“Don't you see, if Eliza has a soul, I would be God, creating a thousand souls with one button press, as I launch multiple copies of Eliza on my palm-top. Or I would be Satan himself, destroying a thousand immortal souls as I shut them down again. Ladies and gentlemen ...”

The angel moved closer and raised his sword.

“... I think we may safely conclude, that I have demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt, we do not have souls!”

The sword swung, slicing through the chains that bound the professor's soul, even as he was bathed in the rapturous applause of his audience. The first step had been taken. The professor's awakened soul whimpered: were these accolades all there was to life?

The angel withdrew, his work done. He knew there were many more steps ahead for the professor, but the Spirit would oversee each one. None entered the Kingdom self-satisfied, unaware of their soul’s true state.


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Member Comments
Member Date
Jan Ackerson 07/20/06
Super! This was highly entertaining--true science fiction, but with--well, with soul!

Two minor changes: The title should be spelled "Soulless" with two l's, and I think the professor would be more impressed by doctorates in computer science than by master's degrees.

Those were very minor--I really love this piece, and especially the image of the angel loosening the chains on his soul.
Sue Dent07/21/06
Oh, very intriguing story! Well written and easy to follow. Being somewhat of a computer techie myself, I could easily picture this. This could have really been hard for many to read yet it flows very well!
Mishael Witty07/22/06
Great story. I loved the description of the professor's soul. Nicely done. Thanks for sharing this.
Marilyn Schnepp 07/22/06
Commenter Sue stated it well: "it would be hard for some to follow this" and it's true. I'm not a sci- fi fan so it's above my head; but I did see the Turing Award and also a TurNing Award...which confused me; but entry was unique and Great for Comp & Sci-Fi fans!
Brenda Craig07/24/06
Interesting look at soul. Made me think of the redemption of my own soul and how it changed one slice at a time. Great take and good writing.
Sherry Wendling07/25/06
Brilliantly done! And subtle. I love the suspense as the angel draws his sword . . . Then to discover it's a sword of freedom, not of judgment! Tremendous originality & creativity.
Trina Courtenay07/26/06
I'm not a sci-fi fan but I liked this entry. I'm with Deanna and her comments as well.
Dr. Sharon Schuetz07/26/06
Powerful stuff here. I loved it. I was surprised by the Angel's actions, yet I liked the direction it took.