Robots used to bring to mind rather clunky metal creations appearing or sounding vaguely human. The terrifying Daleks who kindled nightmares in the Dr Who generation of the 1960s had a fatal flaw which saved humanity – they couldn’t climb stairs! But robots have evolved, and today we have artificial intelligence (AI), a far more sophisticate development which takes on many forms – and to which we are largely oblivious even while surrounded by it.
My smartphone is way smarter than I am. It can beat me at chess, answer most any question I ask it, remember all my numbers and passwords, recognise my fingerprints, pay my bills and tell me when my account is low. But that’s not ‘intelligence’ we think. That’s programming. But it’s not. It’s ‘networking’. My smartphone ‘networks’ with my banks, the internet, GPS maps and satellites, powerful search engines and all my personal data. It can find things I can’t, it knows things I don’t, and it can do things I can’t do. Still not intelligence? So what then is ‘intelligence’? A very tricky question.
- Here are a few facts:
- AIs are developing fast.
- They are smart and will keep on getting smarter.
- They already work for us and alongside us.
- They’re taking on more and more human tasks – and jobs.
- They will become more like us all the time.
There are many types of intelligence. A simple honeybee has a hive intelligence that scientists still haven’t worked out. Humans on the other hand, can have quite limited intelligence: think of babies; or elderly folk with dementia; or drunk drivers. Does that make them less human? Perhaps AI is a different form of intelligence, but not human. Yet we’re working feverishly to create AIs to be ever more like us – to be ‘in our image’ – even if not in appearance. And there’s our theological dilemma in a nutshell. The real question is ‘what does it mean to be human’?
The Christian response is not based on intelligence but being made ‘in the image of God’. But what does that mean? We look around at this world – and we’re getting ever closer to destroying it. If God created us ‘in his image’ and this is the result, and we’re creating AIs to be ‘in our image’, then…. oops, my computer told me my word limit is up.