Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a specialised branch of robotic control engineering applied to the human-machine interface. Significant research programmes are developing the next phase of artificial intelligence. Is the intriguing goal of creating humanoids with a sort of self-awareness an attainable goal? Even without self-awareness, robots have multiple uses, even learning to tackle more challenging tasks. There are many interrelated issues here, not least those of ethics and State regulation. This brief article aims to discuss these on an introductory level, and also how this challenges Christianity.
As a specialised branch of automation, industrial robots have been around for a long time, and used for many routine tasks such as holding welding equipment with control features for picking and placing for the rapid and repeatable joining of car body panels. Robots able to pick and place are commonly used in the manufacture of small components and for the assembly of numerous mass-produced domestic and industrial products. Now, with the prospect of further advances in commercially available robots, some employees fear the threat of redundancy.
For a basic distinction, while computers are able to process large amounts of coded information, such as your personal computer with a link to the Internet, a robot takes process automation to a stage where it performs specific mechanical movements in, for examples, industrial production, performing delicate surgical procedures, or inspection tasks such as in food production, and the automobile or pharmaceutical industries.
Then, as developments progress to artificial intelligence (AI), the computerised control goes beyond a programmed sequence of movements to the point where freedom, choice and learning may take place. Thus, a robot with sensor and vision systems may be given a choice between several optional movements, and be programmed in such a way that based on its past actions, when faced with various alternatives, it may remember its optimised choices and use them whenever it is presented with that same or similar challenge.
Perhaps, going beyond that, some robots have been programmed for higher-level responses to problem-solving so they appear to possess particular brilliance in medical diagnostics, surgical intervention, or in chess-playing, for instances. What is clear, though, is that we are still talking about machines; we are not talking about anything like human rationality. The higher-level AI humanoids designed for complex social interactions will remain machines.
Robots, called androids, because they are designed to resemble humans, will bring many challenges to society, as their presence may become a feature of everyday life for some people. The ethical use and sociology of androids with AI will need great care and regulation involving special training in human-robot interaction. It is clear that particularly vulnerable people, perhaps with psychiatric or emotional illness, may become very attached to a personalised robot, and respond to them as if they were a real person. And people with autism, for instance, may prefer the zero-emotion, predictable socialised responses of an AI robot to those of a family member.
But as AI robots remain machines, we should avoid thinking of them anthropomorphically as if they had real human personality-type traits, or emotional sensitivity or warmth. The machine does not have a care in the world, and will never suffer real moral guilt, nor ever have the ability to develop social awareness or responsibility to the point where it begins to act in society as if it was a sort of human sub-species.
With this sort of emerging society, there will need to be international agreements and careful regulation. For just as it may be possible to develop humanoids and androids with apparent sensitivity, a caring smile and learned skills, so a developer with a devious mind, or a hostile nation, might well put AI to all sorts of ulterior, or immensely threatening activities. This represents serious challenges, and as I write with biblical Christian convictions, our calling continues to be salt and light in a dark, increasingly hostile world, dominated by much futile thinking, due to the obstinate rejection of God’s revealed truth in Jesus Christ.
And if men and women think they have the intelligence to replicate themselves artificially to a degree where there is almost no difference between them and their own creations, they have fallen into debased and futile thinking. Mankind, before the Genesis fall, was the apex of God’s creation. And despite our being moral rebels against God, or sinners, by nature, we are still wonderful and unique persons. To assume we are merely naturally evolved, electro-chemical thinking machines with artificial self-awareness, is a shocking and degrading self-condemnation to depersonalised futility, with no objective value, real responsibility, or meaning. And if you never heard anything like that before, now you will never be able to say you were not warned!
Against this wider setting, it is only biblical Christianity which has a clear basis for the objective value and meaning of our humanity within a clear ethical framework for a healthy human society. Despite the serious moral rupture between the first human pair and the living God, our Creator, we still retain a sense of justice and of objective wrong. There is still a common genuine moral protest against murder, theft, rape, starvation and warfare that acts as a preservative for society.
With increasing secularisation of social models and patterns of what are deemed acceptable behaviour for humanoids will come many challenges for Christians. Here, we may face things that run counter to Christian values of truth, purity, freedom of speech, genuine moral accountability, and freedom to proclaim Christ as the only Saviour for genuine moral guilt. So, biblical Christians will need to learn how to bring the gospel of Christ to people who are becoming increasingly devalued, degraded and dehumanised by immoral and permissive life-styles and open to manipulation by authoritarian-type androids as tools for further social re-engineering by aggressively humanistic secular States.
Thus, it appears that all future developments in AI will need to recognise that however advanced and free to carry out non-previsioned actions, the type of intelligence and its potential for its own in-built development, will remain the responsibility of its developers, manufacturers and licenced operators. AI robots will need carefully designed, enforceable regulation and guidance for their effective and beneficial application to society. And people now in moral revolt against God, although originally made in his true likeness, will always stand in great need of a personal reconciliation to God on the basis of the finished work of Christ on the cross, something an android will never need.