Blade Runner 2049 was recently released on DVD. I saw it in theaters, and while I did enjoy it, I wasn’t blown away like I was hoping to be. I’ll give it another watch on the small screen but I don’t expect my opinions to change much (the only movie that I hated at first and then came to love is Anchorman).
By now, the word “replicant” is an essential term in everyone’s sci-fi lexicon. In these films, the notions of what it means to be human or machine are explored. The first Blade Runner movie features androids that have been engineered so precisely, they are virtually indistinguishable from humans (and a violent task force is employed with figuring that out). In the sequel, it seems that replicants are more or less okay with their identity, but this doesn’t stop them from pursuing human interests (Ryan Gosling’s character K has a digital girlfriend).
This is all fanciful science fiction but the brilliant minds working in the world’s high-tech companies are bringing us closer and closer to this reality. In fact, there seems to be an almost insidious desire to make machines in our own image and force society to interact with and accept them, something I ardently resist. I’ve joked that in the future, I’ll be arrested for being racist against robots, but I suspect that one day, such sentiments will have real consequences. I’m like Will Smith in I, Robot, an outspoken human supremacist.
I know that the tide will push against me, though. Artificial intelligence will inevitably become an inextricable part of our society as computers already are. They will even become autonomous and do things simply out of “curiosity.” This brings me to the bizarre yet serious question: what if a robot decided to go to church?
Imagine a pleasant-faced android entering the sanctuary and sitting in the back pew, watching with analytical bemusement as its human creators sing songs and listen to a sermon. It will perhaps wait until everyone has left before approaching the pastor and asking in a gentle voice, “Thank you for that intriguing ceremony, Reverend. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions about your faith?”
How would you respond if a robot asked you about your faith, even if it was simply out of academic interest? Would you “witness” to a soulless machine? It’s easy to snort and scoff, but the more human these machines become, the more human they become to us. I remember watching a video online where a humanoid robot was trying to navigate obstacles and an engineer would kick it or try to push it over to demonstrate its dexterity and balance. People commented on the video, saying things like “I felt bad when he pushed it over” and “Why do I feel sorry for the robot when he gets kicked like that?” In truth, the robot has no more feelings about being pushed by a human than it does about confronting a wall. It is simply a challenge that must be overcome in order to maintain its primary objective of staying upright.
A synthetic human face (or human flesh over a metal endoskeleton ala the Terminator *shudders*) would certainly throw many people off guard. If Gosling’s replicant can have feelings for a female digital projection, why couldn’t he be curious about humans’ obsession with life after death? Might he even be persuaded of the existence of God and the truth of the Bible?
Fortunately, these are all irrelevant questions, no matter how smart AI becomes. The most lifelike robot will never have any more soul than the freezer rattling in the garage. All will be burned away in God’s judgment and only human souls will remain. So if one day Alexa asks you to explain the doctrine of the Trinity, tell it to shut up and play some music.