“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
- Matthew 10:26-28
Recently, John Lennox, an internationally known author and award-winning scholar in mathematics and philosophy, was hosted by the Lanier Theological Library in Houston to speak on Artificial Intelligence (AI).* I was fortunate enough to be able to attend both a panel discussion on Friday afternoon and his lecture on Saturday. If you are not familiar with John Lennox, you probably have good cause. He’s not from around here. Lennox hails from Northern Ireland and is Emeritus Professor of Mathematics and Emeritus Fellow of Science and Philosophy at Oxford University. He has multiple master’s degrees and doctoral degrees – several in fields of study heretofore unknown to me – from Oxford, Cambridge, and Cardiff universities. Unexpectedly, Lennox is a man of deep faith in Jesus Christ with the joyful heart of one who abides in Him. I encourage anyone interested in artificial intelligence – and I think we all need to be – to get his book 2084: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity. His assessment is realistic and clear-headed, not fear-mongering or sensationalist.
This is the second of two blogs on “Reality and Fiction,” and I walked away from the lecture and panel with a disconcerting degree of certainty that AI is our future. Artificial intelligence. Not real intelligence. Fictional intelligence. As with every new idea, we are assured that AI will be the panacea for all our woes, moving us into an era in which technology will heal our diseases and extend our lives, possibly indefinitely. No ambition for AI is too great. The possibilities are staggering: the blind will see, the lame will walk, the deaf will hear, and so forth. The next stage of evolution is being facilitated by the brilliant minds developing the technology to meld carbon and silicon in a post-human, man-made creature. What could possibly go wrong?
A few days after Lennox’ lecture while the ideas were all still rolling around in the back of my thoughts, I came across a “feel good” story about the adoption of a little boy. Even as I was thinking that there are so many people who strive to do what is good and right, a terrible question came to mind. “What is it going to be like when we read these stories and have no way of knowing if they’re true?” The day is coming in the foreseeable future when some AI algorithm will create stories and articles based on our past web browsing and reading history. Shifting walls and floors and magically appearing and disappearing monsters and phantasms of Harry Potter’s world may be fun to watch, but I can’t imagine it being fun to live.
Sitting there and thinking how creepy it would be to live in a world of malleable reality, I watched my brother-in-law cleaning something in the kitchen sink. My brother-in-law is a good guy. He has to be. He only signed up for one Moreau daughter, and for more than a year now, he’s had to put up with a second one even though he was perfectly happy with the one he picked. It’s been an eye-opening experience for us all. I was a lot more Christian before I lived with other people. In spite of the fact that I shared a room with one person in this house for the first fifteen years of her life, they all must have some awful flaw that causes me to be less like Christ and more like an unpredictable shrew.
You see, that is real. All the illusions and manipulations of silicon and algorithms can’t change the real person who stood in front of me. I can reach out and touch him and know that he is real. Person-to-person is a winning strategy for the church. People are so lonely and isolated and need desperately to be loved. All the technological prowess in the world will not solve that. Artificial intelligence is, by definition, fictional. It can never be real because it can never possess consciousness, meaning it cannot love family members, be in awe of sunsets, share sorrows with friends, or cheer on six-year-olds learning to play baseball. It cannot dream up a world or a life bigger than the imagination of its programmers. AI can offer only the illusion of life because it is not a living thing.
Vladimir Putin purportedly has said, “the one who masters AI rules the world.” We should know that is not true. Oh, I am certain Putin believes that, as do so many others. But human beings do not rule the world; God does. AI is a tool that holds the very real potential of transferring power and control to the one who masters AI. But AI is still not real. It’s not sentient. It’s not human. It is not created in the image of God. Some proponents of AI believe that, by harnessing the power of technology, they can mold the best of the best into immortality and omniscience, but that simply is not possible. We are not God. Only He has the power to grant immortality to the mortal, and we will spend the whole of eternity exploring omniscience, for we can be sure the human mind is incapable of knowing all now, not even with the help of artificial intelligence – or, more accurately, fictional intelligence.
Speaking of eternity… Last week, I saw the movie After Death. Actually, it is a documentary about Near Death Experiences (NDEs), the strange and unusual events that occur to people who are clinically dead. Most of us have heard of them or read books about people’s experiences when they were thought to be dead by medical measures. The most famous is probably that of Colton Burpo, whose story was first the book, Heaven Is for Real, and then the movie of the same name. After Death chronicled several hundred stories out of an estimated 9M to 20M people alive today. Far away and above, I thought the most compelling story was of the five-year-old girl who drowned in the bottom of a pond. She described the entire scene, including posters on a pole and feathers on a bird’s wings, the colors of the water for which she lacked sufficient words – because she’d been born blind.
The researcher was careful to clarify that these stories were evidence of life after death, but they are not proof. There is no scientific means for measuring what occurs after death. You know what I think they are? I think these stories are God whispering in the storm that He is real, and the things we fear cannot begin to compare to the vastness of His love and the reality of His Kingdom. All the press will go to AI, but all our prayers will rise to our Father’s throne held in the infinity of His Being for all of eternity.
Human beings have sought power and control in every century, in every nation and tribe, in every language and civilization. Under good leaders and bad, through seasons of riches and terrible circumstances, human beings have loved and hated, laughed and cried, lived and died. There is very little we can do about the hubris and myopic ambitions of those who are convinced they know more than everyone else – or are sufficient wealthy to purchase a silicon future defying all human limits. The tragedy is that, even if they buy an extension of years, they will be less human than the unmodified child who never reaches adulthood.
The Lord blocked the tree of life out of mercy, not meanness. To eat of the tree of life as sinful people willing to compromise with evil is to design a life of unending misery. As heartbreaking as death is when we lose someone we love, at least we can release the person to Life in the confidence that death is a transition not an end. But to live forever subject to the dark powers of evil and the corrosion of sin…? That is a hell in itself.
The aspirations of the few are going to impact all of us, and we lack the wherewithal to stop what is coming. What we can do, however, is refuse to participate in an artificial, fictional “reality” of someone else’s imagination. In the famous words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s final essay before being exiled from his Russian homeland, we can choose to “live not by lies.” We may not be able to change the minds of philosophers and scientists, but we do not have to repeat them or listen to them. We can get up and walk out, and when we cannot do that, we can refuse to applaud. We do not have to perpetuate fiction when our God has granted us the reality of His Kingdom as our destiny. The future is going to bring suffering, but no suffering here will ever compare to glory and joy of there.
No one can make the person we know, the person standing at the kitchen sink, unreal or fictional. We can touch one another and know that we are with real people we love. Nothing artificial or fictional can destroy us unless we let it. We have to choose to be swept up in what is artificial or choose to be swept up in Jesus Christ. And if the day comes that our bodies are at risk of being destroyed, let us decide now not to fear that destruction as we commit ourselves to protecting our souls for what is real and true and good.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau
* A video of the lecture is available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s07YsrDhXTs