Recently, while at Walmart with my 9-year-old daughter, we passed by some virtual reality goggles on the clearance rack. If you’re not familiar with VR goggles, first of all, where were you this Christmas (and last Christmas)? Secondly, they work with your smartphone to place you inside another world. Any direction you look, up, down, and 360*, you see this other world. There are also objects that you can interact with. For example, a box hit stores this year that can become a treasure chest when you have the goggles on; you can pick it up and interact with it. As we walked by the display, my daughter said, “Daddy, did you know they’ve come out with some gloves you can wear so that you can actually feel what you see with those goggles?” She’s right, they have. “The future” crept up on us pretty quickly. It seemed to sneak in when 2015 hit and we were all venting that the hoverboard wasn’t here yet, at least not for mass purchase. Meanwhile, for $12.99, you can buy some goggles that, when paired with your smartphone, can virtually send you anywhere. I recently walked through Times Square from the comfort of my living room. It was pretty awesome!
Speaking of the future, there has been a lot of buzz in the news lately about Artificial Intelligence. If you haven’t heard, Elon Musk, CEO of TESLA, is investing A LOT of money in an effort to protect us from AI. What do I mean by “protect us”? Have you seen iRobot, Robocop, or Terminator? If not, then maybe you’ve seen “Sophia”, the social humanoid robot developed by Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong.
If you can’t imagine a world where these guys take over, first imagine a world where you can literally manufacture your best friend. You might think, “I wouldn’t want a robot as a best friend because it couldn’t choose to love me”. While it may not be able to choose, it could be programmed to to like you, give you the silent treatment, argue with you, etc... If you can imagine that, then it’s a small leap to imagine a robot as a “spouse”. That’s weird, I know. While it will always be wrong, I’m concerned that it won’t be weird for long.
How AI Could Take Over the World
Imagine a being that optimizes at every obstacle it comes against. It quickly and effectively figures out how to get around something and it “learns” to do it faster and more efficiently each time. Any moral boundaries it has it is given by its programmer or learned through optimization and a sort of robotic pragmatism. Sophia won’t feel bad when she plows through you to accomplish a task, but that is not nearly my biggest concern. Can you imagine the decisions that will be made when AI hits the consumer market as VR already has?
How AI Presents Moral Dilemmas
Did you know those VR goggles you bought your 14-year-old brother for Christmas have the ability to put him right in the middle of a strip club? Or a brothel in Amsterdam? (If that thought excites you, let me remind you it is wicked evil, and seeks to destroy you more than any robot will) Pornography has been a booming business for some time. Maybe you’ve contributed to its success. Virtual Reality is the future of porn. Perhaps you’ve noticed the sex shops that have popped up around your city. These are establishments that sell inanimate objects to have sex with. Based on their billboards and busy parking lots, I assume business is good (while their business is and always will be morally bad). You can imagine how people will use AI to manufacture their spouse or lover, with “sex robots” already making the headlines.
The Bigger Dilemma
Sexual perversion has always been with us and will always be with us until Jesus returns. The bigger dilemma, in my opinion, is in defining a human and even a spouse. In our generation, we’ve not only witnessed the presentation of a new definition of marriage, but it was quickly followed by an ongoing effort to redefine what makes you male or female. This issue is huge and will continue to create challenges that go way beyond who can use what bathroom. So much of our world is divided into these two binary categories (male and female); from shoe departments to medical practices. When a dead body is recovered how will we determine if they were male or female if it is defined by their emotions?
At the center of the debate over what makes someone male or female, and even the attempts to redefine marriage, is sexual conquest. Some might call it love. I’ll call it sexual conquest, but I’m fine if you call it love. What happens when people start loving a robot? Can you marry a robot? What is the difference between a robot and a human? If you can “kill” a robot can you kill a human? These will be questions we have to answer very soon.
As my friend and theologian Nathan Wagnon put it:
"I’m convinced we have to double down on equipping Christians on what it means to bear the image of God. We are made in the image of God. We make machines in our image. There’s a big difference. Imagine the most realistic, emotion capable, memory forming robot possible. It would still be the product of a googolplex of 1s and 0s, and would be engineered to simulate humans, not become one. Everything gains its value from its maker. God created us in his image (and continues to do so through other human agents). We create machines, and even if they are advanced enough to create other machines, those machines will still have only been a by-product of man’s creativity. They will never be man any more than we will ever be God."
Our value comes from our designer. We have infinite value because we were created by God for God. Robots that were created by us and for us are limited to value based on practicality and usefulness. Technology is a useful tool. We should use it for good, while being aware of the possibilities it has to be used for evil.