Who Is In Control?
As technological development accelerates at a frightening pace, things that used to be purely in the realm of science fiction are now science fact, with new horizons being conquered on what feels like a weekly basis. One of the more recently explored frontiers is the merging of man and machine, spawning a new philosophical construct called “transhumanism.” This is more than just prosthetic limbs for amputees; transhumanism believes that the next phase of human progress and evolution is the synthesis of hardware and wetware, even at the synaptic level.
Many books, films, and TV programs have explored this intriguing technology, perhaps most famously with the “Borg” in the Star Trek universe. Only the most cold-hearted Communist would view the Borg as a worthy aspiration for the human race, and the medical advances we have made today are still far beneath the fictional technology the Borg employ. Most of our modern machinery compatible with the human body applies to the limbs and a few organs. We are nowhere near being able to replace a body wholesale while keeping the kernel of the human soul alive within the machine. Yet there are countless scientific minds and countless amounts of money being devoted to just that, hoping to one day be able to substitute this frail mortal shell for something harder, faster, and more durable.
I recently watched a film that deals with this subject called Upgrade. I can’t say I recommend the film, mostly due to its glorification of extreme violence, but the story was decent and there were some twists and turns in there. The basic premise is that in the near-future, a man is in an automobile accident, paralyzing him from the waist down. Without his knowledge, a computer chip known as STEM is implanted on his spinal cord, and he regains the ability to walk. Unbeknownst to him, at least initially, STEM is more than just a miracle drug; it is a fully-functional artificial intelligence system with the ability to talk and the capability of enhancing motor skills beyond what the human brain can achieve. At first, this sounds pretty cool (and a lot like the backstories of a thousand comic book characters). As expected, however, things take a sinister turn, and the moral of the story is that when someone (or something) has control, it doesn’t like to give it back.
What made this film intellectually stimulating is the moral dilemma our hapless protagonist experiences. He can either surrender control of his body to STEM and walk and jump and kill and be invincible, or he can languish in bed as a paraplegic. I’ve never been in a paralyzed state but I imagine that if I were, I would do almost anything be able to walk again. Yet even our desperate hero balks at the idea of surrendering total control to a computer program, especially when its motives start to veer into dark territory. We instinctively know that the mind is more important than the body, yet it is our body which acts upon the world.
What might the Bible have to say about this issue? It is quite clear that as believers, we are expected to maintain control of our bodies. Eph. 5:18 exhorts us not to be drunk, which leads to debauchery; 1 Cor. 6:20 tells us to honor God with our bodies; Rom. 6:12-13 tells us to not let sin reign in our bodies, but to present our members as instruments of righteousness. When we were in sin, its lusts and passions ruled our bodies and we were powerless to resist. But now that we are dead to sin and alive in Christ, our sin nature no longer has a hold of us, and we now serve a new Master. By the power of the Holy Spirit through grace, we are commanded to use our bodies for righteousness. If we surrender control to a foreign host, that no longer becomes possible. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and He enables us to carry out God’s commands.
The Borg says, “Resistance is futile.” I say, “Tell that to Him who strengthens me.”
GHOST IN THE SHELL https://youtu.be/q0z08OpmEPc
Were you the one I yelled at to watch the original 90’s animated one rather than the ScarJo remake?
You make an interesting point that a Christian should not share self-control with machine parts. Do you have a different opinion about machine parts that are completely under human control? Even if that still means giving up being a human being? Say, removing a brain from a human body and installing it directly into a spaceship or something like that?
Aha! Anne McCaffrey’s “The Ship Who Sang”, plus the novels that followed!
Perhaps it’s not too early for our society to talk about all the possible ramifications. We might…*might*…arrive at a mutually agreeable set of governing principles by time they’re needed. (Wouldn’t want to bet on that though!!)
I’d wonder if there’s any point in being able to walk around again if I wasn’t in control of myself, though I guess that would depend on how aware I was of my surroundings and what the thing controlling me was doing and how my life compared as a parapalegic(could I communicate or control a computer enough to write, etc?)
Have you seen the new Godzilla anime movies on Netflix? They’re pretty cool, and there becomes a bit of a technology merging with organic beings conflict, especially in the second movie.
Another part of the issue is mechanical body parts being hacked, which would be especially bad when it came to mechanical parts in the brain. That’s probably a more immediate issue than the mechanical part/its software trying to take over a human body.