Do churches need a catechism for robots?


Some people have taken Pope Francis’ reflections in recent years to mean pretty much whatever they wanted them to mean. For example,

But Francis’ wide arms arguably never extended beyond a mass in 2014 when he suggested the church would baptize Martians.

“If, for example, tomorrow an expedition of Martians came… and one of them said: ‘But I want to be baptized!’ What would happen?” Pope Francis asked. “When the Lord shows us the way, who are we to say, ‘No, Lord, that’s not safe! No, let’s do this.'”

Jonathan Merrit, “Is AI a threat to Christianity?” at Atlantic (February 3, 2017)

Merritt quickly converts the hypothetical question – which depends, of course, on the assumption that Martians are very similar beings to us – to: Are you there, God? It’s me, robot.

Nice writing, that, but what is the basis of the chain of assumptions? Is a computer more likely to need salvation, in a religious sense, than a horse? Why is that?

Proponents of artificial intelligence equal to or greater than human beings are good at a certain kind of rhetoric. Listen:

History lends credence to this prediction, as many major scientific advances have had religious impacts. When Galileo promoted heliocentrism in the 1600s, he challenged traditional Christian interpretations of certain Bible passages, which seemed to teach that the earth was the center of the universe. When Charles Darwin popularized the theory of natural selection in the 1800s, it challenged traditional Christian beliefs about the origins of life. The trend has continued with modern genetics and climatology. …

The creation of non-human autonomous robots would disrupt religion, like everything else, on an entirely new scale. “If humans were to create beings free of will,” says Kelly, who was raised Catholic and identifies as a Christian, “absolutely every aspect of traditional theology would be challenged and would have to be reinterpreted in a certain extent”. …

If you’re willing to follow this line of reasoning, the theological challenges pile up. If artificially intelligent machines had a soul, would they be able to establish a relationship with God? The Bible teaches that Jesus’ death redeemed “all things” in creation – from ants to accountants – and made reconciliation with God possible. So, did Jesus also die for artificial intelligence? Can AI be “saved”?

Jonathan Merrit, “Is AI a threat to Christianity?” at Atlantic (February 3, 2017)

We are informed that “there are no easy answers for Christians willing to answer these questions”.

No? There may be no easy answers. But there are some cautious ones. Here is one: “Is this situation likely to occur?”

When the early Christian thinker Augustine (354-430) was asked about the theological status of satyrs (legendary half-human/half-goat figures), he replied that the question should wait until their existence is proven. It never was, which spared the thinkers of his time many useless theologies. Why couldn’t we do the same with claims about AI that are “like us”?

As with the question of Martians seeking otherworldly wisdom, one might ask, “Is this likely to happen?” »

There are a number of reasons for serious doubt about AI spiritual entities. As we noted in an earlier discussion of Ray Kurzweil’s eclectic philosophy of singularity, many thinkers dispute the possibility of artificial general intelligence. For example, some hope that artificial intelligence could design the artificial super-intelligence that makes us all super-geniuses. But computer engineer Eric Holloway points out that AI systems are bound and subject to the everyday laws of physics, which guarantee a point of diminishing returns.

Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks points out that the human mind is not even calculable. That is to say, it is understandable but cannot be reduced to calculations. To the extent that quantum mechanics plays a role in its operations, the mind can be inherently impossible to reduce to calculations because quantum mechanics operates according to different laws of physics from Newton and Einstein.

Perhaps the biggest problem, however, is that human consciousness remains the central problem of philosophy. If we don’t know exactly what human consciousness is, there’s no good reason to believe that computational consciousness will happen soon or ever.

But maintaining such hopes remains an intellectual industry. Again, from Atlantic, we hear,

[self-described Christian mystic Mike] McHargue notes that questions about AI and theology are among the most common he receives from listeners to his popular “Ask Science Mike” and “The Liturgist” podcasts. “Any non-biological, non-human intelligence will present a greater challenge to religion and human philosophy than anything else in all of our combined history,” he asserts. “Nothing else will increase this level of upheaval and collective trauma as we first encounter it.”

Jonathan Merrit, “Is AI a threat to Christianity?” at Atlantic (February 3, 2017)

Dramatically set. But sadly, most hospital chaplains know the greatest challenges in religion and philosophy that can be encountered every day. A priest who had to choose between sitting with the parents of a mortally wounded five-year-old and debating in a graduate seminar whether Martians could sin or repent would have little difficulty deciding what the problem is. the most serious and disturbing part of his vocation.

Further reading: Tales of an Invented God. The most important characteristic of an AI cult is that its gods (Godbots?) will be created by the AI ​​developers and not the other way around


Are we going to become mere applications of our intelligent machines? At COSM, Ray Kurzweil will offer insight into his predicted singularity where we merge with superintelligent computers


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