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Could there be souls in robots or clones?


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Cheshvan 22, 5778
Shalom. I hope that you are well. I would like to ask a question that has me deeply perplexed. A few days ago, as I was scrolling through the news, I was informed of the newly created robot, Sophia, who has been given full citizenship and rights in Saudi Arabia. Sophia is a humanoid designed to adapt and learn according to human behavior; she can imitate human gestures, has facial recognition and artificial intelligence. This led me to wonder if it is possible that machines think and feel like humans (why else would Sophia have rights?). My question has three parts: 1. Is it possible that machines are endowed with souls? My belief has always been that only humans possess souls. However, this may be a true megalomaniac belief. Also, it may question God´s omnipotence, which leads me to the second part of my question. 2. Shouldn´t we believe that God has the freedom to endow any kind of being with a soul if he so desires? Perhaps you will respond that God, indeed, has the power to give a soul to any being but we, as the creators of machines, would be usurping His power by building an unnatural being and giving it the possibility of acquiring a soul. Therefore, my third question: 3. Would we not be doing exactly the same thing by having children? We, in a way, create children; we breed them, educate them (which would be the equivalent to designing a machine), love them. Do we not go through this process —though with some alterations— when we construct and make use of a machine? What about people who are cloned? Thank you for reading my long question and I look forward to hearing your answer. P.S: on a totally unrelated note, what is Judaism’s view of ghosts?
Don’t worry about God- there will always be plenty of things that only He can do. Like a loving Father, the more His children can do and achieve (whether technologically or having children), the happier He is. Parents aren’t at all jealous of their children’s success! In addition, God could theoretically grant a soul (which includes free-will) to anything He wants, and accordingly, that being (whether cloned or whatever…) could be called “human”, but obviously only if it has independent free will to choose good or bad, between short-term and long-term desires, etc. which is what the soul is about. This is all very theoretical, and far from the case today both in cloning and how much more so, robotics, and may very well stay theoretical forever, but who knows?! As almost similar precedents, the Chacham Zvi (Resp. 93) posits that the Golem which his grandfather and supposedly the Maharal of Prague made, cannot be counted for a minyan, and one who “kills” it isn’t a murderer, based upon Sanhedrin 65b, as did his son R. Ya’akov Emdin (Resp. II, 82), but they didn’t have free will and couldn’t even speak.
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