It is the Spirit Who gives life.John 6:63
One of the difficulties man faces is the definition of life. Life can be viewed as the opposite to death, but that does not help. Life might be defined as a characteristic distinguishing physical entities that have biological processes from those who don’t. This natural definition differs from a Christian definition. Christians define life as having a relationship with God through faith by grace thanks to the cross.
The natural definition calls plants, animals, and man living entities—not so sure about viruses. The supernatural one sees redeemed human beings only as featuring life.
Even the source of life differs. Naturally, life evolved. Supernaturally, it is a gift of God in creation.
But both would agree to call man made life artificial.
Artificial Life Forms
There are different forms of artificial life (AL). Robots might be the most prominent. But there are artificial cells and software bots as well as body enhancements like intelligent protheses.
There are robots that help in case of emergency and disaster. Robots disarm bombs. In the future, they are believed to replace us at the work place, making it necessary to find something else for us to do. Maybe we will stop to define the value of the individual through accomplishments and contributions to others.
In the last weeks, a dating and infidelity service was hacked and their users’ data published. It was found that male clients outnumbered female by a factor of 20. And most man chatted with bots, software programs, they were certain to be real women.
Deep Blue, IBM’s computer, regularly beets humans at Jeopardy. This game both needs big know how—a natural characteristic of a computer that can easily scan the internet, called big data—and semantic understanding—a function that is rather easy for us, but very hard for computers.
But one of the most amazing break throughs was in 2010, when scientist succeeded to create artificial cells. These cells have a genome that was designed in the computer, assembled by machines using amino acids, grown in yeast, and implanted in empty bacterial cells. These cells divide and multiply. And they have a planned function: synthesising petrol. By natural definition: life.
When is it alive?
An early test for life in artificial intelligence (AI) was the Turing test. Let people speak with an artificial intelligence about a random topic, and when they classify their invisible communication partner as human being, the AI passed the test.
The male customers of the dating service kept on paying for its services, even when they only spoke to artificial females. Would you say that was a valid setting for a turing test? Not quite, because the topic spoken about was not random. One could say that this is a case of weak artificial intelligence, very limited in range. But quite convincing, it seems.
Natural definitions make it very hard to define the borders of artificial life and artificial intelligence. When do we call it intelligent? When do we call something alive?
Using a supernatural definition, it is much easier. Whoever God calls his child, lives. That only includes human being.
Why be afraid?
Does man play God when he designs artificial life? Does he step over his boundaries when he creates artificial intelligence?
Scientist—and most Christians—would say yes. Scientists, because they use a natural definition for life and intelligence, believing that life and intelligence are only defined by natural laws and physical processes. Chemical reactions, electrical messaging, and so forth within hardware that only consists of matter. But why Christians?
If you believe that life and intelligence is more than natural, speak supernatural and Spirit-given, then purely natural imitations of life and intelligence cannot be life. Can the mimic it? Pretty darn close. But they will never be life.
The closest we come in the bible to artificial life is the statue in Revelation that comes to life and speaks, leading people to worship the prophet and the dragon. If artificial intelligence derails our attention from God or lets us call ourselves God like Herod, it becomes an idol—just like the inanimate pieces of wood used as idols Isaiah is speaking of.
If AI and AL make our lives easier, but are bad, what about washing machines that determine the right temperature to wash the clothes you load? Is it only bad if it starts to speak with us, giving us advice on washing our clothes? What about cell phones? How much must a cell phone know me, my behaviour and the things I like, serving me targeted advertisement about my favourite snack right when I get hungry, before it gets bad?
In the natural, free will is not possible, since every decision can be predicted using the initial position and available parameters. Prediction in a natural system is a function of computing power and available data. Without free will, unpredictable behaviour is not possible. We are just not able to throw enough power on a big enough data set yet. But without free will, how can a life form following purely natural laws become a danger?
Yes, this is a gross simplification. It does not take into account quantum weirdness nor our dependency on artificial intelligence to predict the behaviour of artificial intelligence.
AI and AL can turn bad. Just as many things we eat or use are found to be carcinogenic.
Is it morally wrong?
If life is defined supernaturally, can mimicking it using purely natural means be immoral?
It would be immoral to worship it. We have many things we already tend to worship. Just think about money for a moment.
We could even argue that we are just using our God given creativity.
What do you think. Should we allow AI and AL? Should we fight it? Embrace it?
Traditionally, Christians fought every new invention, be it radio, TV, internet. And later, embraced it, fighting back and taking ground little by little, mourning their lack of influence.
Frankly, I do not know how to react. We know, AI and AL will enhance. Can we provide boundaries and morale?
Please let me know what you think.