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The limits of AI in the soulful realm

Humans can detect when someone poured their soul into something. When a chef, a novelist, a composer or a designer is passionate about their craft, their energy is contagious and their outputs – a dish, a novel, a piece of music or technology – wins over masses of people.

We notice if something was done with love and attention or with a cookie cutter. To an external observer such a dish, novel or piece of music might be just a finished product but to the person who made it there were many components big and small – design, ingredients, intended emotion ...etc. – and each of those received undivided attention.

This attention made it theirs. Being theirs means the output encompasses the sum of their experiences, values and life experiences. Or in other words, they put their soul into it and it now lives there. Whenever someone interacts with that object their soul identifies with the soul that is present in that object and a real bond is built.

Telepathy of the artisanal

In the Shinto religion there is a belief that objects have souls. If one‘s work results in a well crafted and beloved object then a benevolent soul will find a comfortable home in it. Success, measured in purchases and human attention, follows.

Consider a blacksmith. She or he might focus on a very specific kind of design that uses an equally specific and rare type of metal. They would do so with utmost focus and respect each time, even though each item takes many hours to craft.

There’s also another way to look at how a human connection is important to producing that which can resonate with others at scale.

According to Stephen King, “writing is about telepathy”. That is, the connection and the bond that you establish between yourself and your audience is what connects you together. Stephen’s – and other world class authors’s – medium was writing. Through this medium they connected with millions around the world.

Telepathy is very much present in other fields as well. A chef’s medium is their food, composer’s their music, designer’s their art or product and endless other examples of success through putting one’s soul into what they make.

The Chinese traditional medicine concept of Shen combines both of the above points. The Shen is the spirit – usually a human. When taken literally the word shen means to “reach out” or “to extend”. To truly affect humans, a song, poem or an online tool has to have a shen that reaches out and touches the person’s soul.

AI's soul

AI is making huge leaps in quantitative fields. It can and does supersede human intelligence – most recently exemplified in solving the three body problem 100 million times faster than humans. It is also making huge strides towards self directed learning as Deepmind's latest algorithm has demonstrated by learning the rules of an unknown, rather untaught, game on its own.

Artificial intelligence is also being used in other fields. Already pieces of text or melodies are being produced en masse and businesses are being established on this need – for example as hold music or product descriptions when shopping online.

However, getting far in in the qualitative realm requires soulful inputs..Unless AI programs and AI powered robots develop the capacities described above (souls) – it is difficult to imagine that a true, meaningful and lasting connection would be established. In economic terms, non-human produced music, text or otherwise soulful art will struggle to be hits.