The New Frankenstein?

Part I of the Soul Series

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and the danger it may pose.  This article discusses the theological ramifications of AI in Christian terms.  I believe some people actually have concerns that self-aware robots might have a soul, and are afraid of the turmoil that would cause among the faithful, particularly theologians.  I find that utterly impossible to consider seriously.

What I would like to consider is Oneness and the soul, as well as the ramifications of robots having self-awareness.  For this topic, I shall post three articles:  this post will deal with AI while the sequel will address human souls, and the third will discuss the divinity of objects.

Regardless of ability, a robot is a machine, and can only do what it is made to do.  A robot can be made to move around, communicate, and perform tasks like a human would, but it is still a machine.  Even if a robot has an ethics program, the decisions it would make would be a result of its programming, and not of its own consideration.  Although such a robot might have a level of “free will” similar to ours (which isn’t saying much), that still cannot imply the presence of a soul.  Some may equate genetics with a robot’s programming, but I firmly disagree.  An engineer wrote the programming code, but God wrote the genetic code.  For me, this is what distinguishes an AI entity from a human; the human is a natural individual, and so their decisions have moral weight.  Since none of the ethical decisions made by the AI entity would be natural decisions, made by a natural individual, they would have no ethical weight, because the responsibility for its behavior would fall ultimately on its maker rather than on the robot itself.  The bestowal of self-awareness or an ethics program on a machine by its maker simply does not bring with it a soul.  The AI entity would participate in divinity no more and no less than any other nonliving object. 

What is worth considering is the danger self-aware robots may pose, as those dangers could become very real.  I hope robotics engineers take thought for these concerns, and develop their projects accordingly.

Making biological/robotic hybrids is another matter entirely, one which I am unable to grapple with today as the parameters for such a thing are thankfully not available.  If someday we are faced with it, then I hope we shall face it with wisdom and grace.

Next week, we’ll consider Oneness and the human soul.

 

Copyright © 2017 Teresa Chupp.  All rights reserved.

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