I recently posted a discussion on Facebook that received a bit of attention so I thought I would expand it into an article. The topic was about androids/synthetic humans. Several weeks ago, I watched two films dealing with the subject: Zoe on Amazon Prime and Extinction on Netflix. I can’t talk about how artificial people factor into these films without spoiling the stories so you’ll just have to go check them out for yourself. But in both films, the line between man and machines is blurred almost to nonexistence and it is crossed in numerous ways.
For many people, the notion of self-aware artificial intelligence and synthetic human bodies is tantalizing and exciting. Of course, talking like a human and looking like a human are two separate technological pursuits. You can have a humorous, empathetic chatbot that is confined to CPUs and hard drives and has no physical presence, a brain without a body. Then there are engineers and scientists trying to create a realistic human body that can jump and spin and run and pick up things like humans do, but it would just be executing pre-programmed commands with no intelligence other than what is needed to maintain balance and identify obstacles. The Holy Grail would be to combine the two, a human-replicated personality inside a human-replicated body. Despite what Hollywood would have us believe, this electric dream is still a long way off, but as technological advances accelerate, so does the pace at which this goal can be achieved.
Tech CEO/celebrities like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos make frequent public proclamations about the future and also devote a lot of resources to making their visions come to life. It almost feels inevitable that, barring a cataclysmic global disaster or societal collapse, that we will one day have robots walking among us, fulfilling a number of duties.
So what should we as Christians make of this? The Bible doesn’t speak directly about AI or androids, but it speaks volumes on the hearts and hands of the people who would make it a reality. It is clear from Scripture that God created us to do work. He didn’t put Adam and Eve in the garden and tell them to just enjoy the view; He told them to work the land (Gen. 2:15). Several Bible passages warn against laziness and extol the virtues of work (Prov. 21:25, 1 Thess. 4:11, 2 Tim. 2:6, and many more). This doesn’t mean that we must all be manual laborers and any automation is bad, but I don’t think that living like the porcine blubbards in the movie Wall-E is what God had in mind for the human race. There is satisfaction in a job well done and that is how God intended for it to be.
What about morally dubious interactions with robots? Is it really cheating to have intercourse with an android? What about a lonely soul who falls in love with an artificial person? What about platonic friendship? Who wouldn’t like to have a bond like Captain Picard and Data?
God created us as sentient beings with physical and emotional capabilities and needs. We have no assurance that these needs will be fulfilled, but Psalms 37:4 tells us to delight in the Lord, and He will give us the desires of our heart. The key is “delighting in the Lord,” finding serenity and satisfaction in Him. Perhaps He will then reward you by fulfilling your desires, or perhaps you will find that the things you desire are not worth pursuing after all. Craving sexual satisfaction to the point of sleeping with an android is not a godly desire. Finding emotional and relational connection with artificial intelligence is a bit stickier, especially since some people have impairments or are too isolated to allow for normal human contact. But heaven forbid this should ever become commonplace. How sick would our society be when people actually prefer the company of soulless, factory-made machines to living, breathing people knit in the womb by God’s hands?
I know I probably sound like a stodgy old man grumbling about the technology steamroller, but as we have already seen in countless instances, technology can easily lead to greater isolation and emotional distance, despite physical proximity. Most of all, it can be an idol, and there is nothing we humans love more than worshiping ourselves.