This is an article by a former High School classmate of mine and it addresses in a calm clear way the reality of AI. And it treads, without knowing it, on a pet theory of mine. That pet theory is that most of what causes us angst and trouble today is simply that we have un-learned basic metaphysics. Big word, I know, but it shouldn’t be scary because we all have a metaphysic. Metaphysics is simply what we believe about being, consciousness and purpose or will. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do we think, and why do we seem to share the same world? Are we pointed toward something, or just random cause and effect chains governed by butterflies in China?
None of those questions are directly about the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Lutheran terms they are all about the law. The first use of the law we usually teach catechism students is a curb or the civil use. This is one of the places I like using a sports metaphor. The basic law is the out-of-bounds lines. The game takes place within these lines. The first table or the first three commandments really cover this ground in a specific way from revelation. Why is there something rather than nothing? You shall have no other gods before me. God made it. Why are we conscious and seem to share an existence? This might be the biggest stretch, but the second commandment is about the name of God. Don’t misuse it. The name of God is taken as shorthand for his essence and attributes which in Christ he shares with us. We think because we were thought. In Him, we live and move and have our being. Don’t abuse this image of God given to you by grace. Are we pointed toward something? Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Yes, we are pointed toward the joy of God, that day of the perfection of all creation.
Now specifically the short post is about AI and the fears of it. The fears could be summed up in one word, Skynet. (Or maybe today I have to use Ultron. I’m getting old.) The problem with this, and the entire “singularity” movement, of which I take the pinnacle to be the “uploading” of your consciousness to a non-organic based body, is that they confuse intelligence with consciousness and purpose. We encounter this problem all the time with the law. We can know what the law says, but that doesn’t mean we live it. Intelligence is not either consciousness or will. Watson can beat Ken Jennings at Jeopardy, but Watson’s will is still directed by those programmers. Watson doesn’t have any self-conception of itself. Of these three first things: being, consciousness and bliss/purpose, we humans have zero power to make any of them. We come the closest with being. We can create new things out of the stuff that already exists. We can fashion artificial intelligence, even AI that might pass a strong Turing test. But these are always going to be things made in our image. To steal a title, they are children of a lessor god. Or tapping into the zeitgeist, I bet we can make zombies, but zombies don’t have consciousness or will.
I’m not afraid of Skynet. I’m more afraid of the distilled consciousness and will of the programmers of these AIs. That these intelligences would behave more like our crooked timber than we would like. And they wouldn’t do it because they chose to. They would do it because we told them to. That we don’t know what we are doing. But that is not a new problem. That is the same problem we’ve always had, except the nails in the boards are getting bigger. The load on the cross is beyond our comprehension.
(Note: I’m a theist. Hard core philosophical materialists have answers to being, consciousness and bliss/purpose. I just find them severely lacking. Good thinking on First Things is like a coarse adjustment. It gets you in the right ballpark so you aren’t playing football on a baseball field.)