Virtual Assistants need a soul


Virtual assistants, like Alexa and Siri, need a soul.

Not soul, like James Brown, although that couldn’t hurt, but a soul, like we all need. What is a soul? There are as many answers to that as there are people.

Defining what people’s souls have in common is important for maintaining our humanity and our control over the machines we create. The following are some probably lame generalizations.

Aspects of a person’s soul:

a) Integrity

In this context I interpret integrity to mean a striving to maintain a personal domain that is not interfered with by others. Integrity allows for interaction, but as little interference and as few side effects as possible.

b) History

This includes a persons memories, creations, resources, and other artifacts of their existence.

c) Individuality

This includes the rules and reasoning a person uses to judge or filter information. Some are innate but most are built up over time and are cumulative. This would include for example the ability to understand and speak different languages and dialects. This is a persons history incorporated into their senses. Since all of reality is so massive as to be impossible to experience and record, our individuality guides our experience and recollection.

d) Ethical code

This is also a highly individual part of a persons domain. These are the rules of the rules, and they vary not only across space and time but from person to person and even within people across time and context.

This list is far from complete.

Virtual assistants can understand speech and simple commands. So far as I know they don’t store history but that may be on the way. But as far as I know they don’t incorporate integrity, individuality or ethical codes.

How can we trust a virtual assistant that has no soul? I think the Solid project is a good beginning for the soul of personal assistants.

Artificial Intelligence Panel