Robots and theology
Views 53 | Time to read: 3 minutes | Uploaded: 3 - 7 - 2017 | By: Samuel Muthiah
Technology continues to surge ahead at an ever-increasing rate, including advances in the realm of artificial intelligence, or AI. As General Stanley McChrystal said at convocation, we will likely reach a point where weapons themselves will have the capability to decide to fire themselves. Beyond the obvious ethical questions stemming from self-firing weapons, the rise of AI will also raise questions about what it means to be human, and the Church must begin grappling with these questions now.
AI will likely soon advance to the point of greater intelligence than humans, and more and more tasks will be given over to AI. Furthermore, these accomplishments will likely extend into more creative realms, such as literature or art, raising questions about the value of a piece of art created by a robot compared to one created by a human. Of course, some would argue that there is an aspect of humanity that simply could not be replicated by a robot, but unless rigorous thought and justification are put behind such a claim it remains nothing but wishful thinking.
We will also see the rise of the melding of the biological and the technological. This may start with implanting health-monitoring chips, but such devices could easily expand far beyond that to serve functions similar to those of our smartphones today. While this may sound like something out of a science fiction novel, it exists as a possible future—one that we need to be prepared for. We need to ask questions such as whether it is possible to so intimately integrate humans with technology that the person’s humanity is in some way fundamentally altered.
While these are issues for humankind as a whole, the Church has the particular role of explaining God’s integral role in answering such challenges. However, if the Church does not now begin to prepare for the questions that increases in technology will bring, we run the risk of being intellectually unprepared to demonstrate to the wider world that the truths espoused by Christians remain true.
If we are unable to coherently and persuasively explain from a Christian perspective the relationship between humanity and AI, we will cast doubts on the rest of our faith. When Charles Darwin published his findings, the Church was intellectually unprepared to grapple with the implications of his work. Thus many people, accepting Darwin’s and subsequent researchers’ conclusions, turned away from the Church.
The Church must learn from its past and get ahead of the theological issues surrounding advances in technology. Christian theologians and philosophers will do Christians everywhere a great service by expending energy and thought now into the questions of the future.
It may be tempting to assume that the answers to questions about the nature of humanity, particularly when compared to robots, will be simple. Indeed, an easy answer to many questions raised here, and an answer that very well may be valid, is the existence of the soul. However, that answer must be defended, and we must have a rigorous understanding of the implications of souls within the context of extremely advanced AI.
Many of the ideas raised here may seem like far off issues, but we must begin to develop answers now if we are to be prepared for a world of ever-smarter technology. The Church cannot let technological advances catch it off guard.