Robotics are the next big thing. According to Bill Gates, they will allow us to access all sorts of aids to living, or apps, which we barely dream of.
The trouble starts when the apps become indispensible and then go wrong, as we learn when people’s computers are held to ransom by fraudulent individuals who appear to be operating beyond the reaches of the law for much of the time.
Back in the seventies people were imagining, quite confidently, the day when trying to prevent the robot from continuing to make your bed while you were still in it would be a commonplace morning mishap. Now, it is reckoned that by 2045 artificial intelligence will be on a par with what we currently take for granted as human intelligence, just in time for many of us who will be in 'care' homes by then to be tended by such realistic beings as 'Nadine', a product of the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
Looking at the bigger picture, if such an artificial intelligence, mathematically configured, were to run away with itself, we could be forgiven for wondering what it would feel like to be caught up in the global equivalent of an infinite version of the bed-making scenario. But perhaps, given the present level of global conflict and what it is doing to the planet, we will have done something worse to ourselves long before the robots take over. On the other hand, they might come to the rescue, once their intelligence overtakes ours, and if we survive that long.
Whether or not we survive the intervention of the robots will depend on the resilience of the human spirit. The increasing commodification of learning, at the expense of art, music, poetic imagination and a compassionate and wise teaching of religion, will ultimately do irretrievable damage to the human spirit, and consequently to the human person, so it should not take the robots long to overtake us. Once the spirit is defeated artificial intelligence will have free reign. There will be no more disturbing moral questions for us to address together in the fellowship of our shared humanity, only programmed ones, selected to enhance the efficacy of the system through the constrained autonomy of the pre-programmed individual.
Human intelligence is shaped from within the human spirit for better or for worse. Unless righteousness, compassion and the will for genuine peace can be programmed into artificial intelligence in such a way as to allow these essential virtues to grow exponentially with the developing robotic functional intelligence, it is hard to imagine what the world will look and feel like beyond 2045. What kind of uniform preconfigured politics will reshape the way we make moral decisions? and what will we yearn for, if anything? How do you program righteousness? How do you program hope?
It is the human spirit which yearns for righteousness, in other words for God’s own justice and loving kindness, but if that God-ward yearning has been factored out of the artificial mind, will we even know that this has happened? And will it matter? I think it is the last element of this postulated scenario which is most chilling – that the question of humanity’s belonging to a loving God will simply not matter. Hope will have been effaced in a single stroke, or minor equation perhaps.