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Monday, June 27, 2016

The Robot Apocalypse

Should we be as terrified of artificial intelligence as Elon Musk and Bill Gates?

The number of books, movies and other cultural references that use the killer robot as the central meme is almost countless. From the Jewish legend of the golem, through Frankenstein, to the current fascination with murderous AI, we have long understand that our being made in the image and likeness of God means we may, indeed, have the ability to form life from the earth.

We know such life would not be human, would not have the divine breath breathed into it, but would be less than that. Would such a creation, formed by the supernatural hand of man instead of the divine hand of God, would that creation know how to love, or would it know only how to destroy?

If a man-made being were possible, in order for the being to be like us, it would have to understand love. Is this possible?

We could argue that since love is a relationship between persons, and robots aren't persons, it would not be possible for such creatures to understand the relationship that is love.

On the other hand, we can argue that God is perfectly logical and that God is Love, so love must be the result of perfect logic. If that is true, then logic-based intelligences would be able to understand love. Of course, to do so, we would have had to program them correctly. Insofar as we inadvertently wrote errors into the program logic, the creatures we created would not be able to love.

There is a further wrinkle to the difficulty. Emotion is the result of endocrine levels that wash through our system, influencing brain function in ways we do not understand. God does not have a body, so God does not have emotions, but our emotions must, somehow, reflect the pure rationality that is God, so they must somehow be accounted for in our programming. To date, we have no knowledge of how to make that part work. We do not understand the logic of emotion, or of emotional love. Because we don't understand it, we can't code for it. As a result, any golem we create will necessarily be incomplete, it can be nothing more than the sum or our own incomplete self-understanding.

And that is the heart of the problem. An artificial intelligence is, ultimately, nothing more than a programmer, or a team of programmers, producing their own partial reflection, using silicon and steel instead of a silvered glass mirror. Since every AI is the result of a program written by a human being, robots are - at best - merely a reflection of us. Robots, computers, programs, all of it, is just us looking at ourselves through the glass darkly, using Boolean logic as our incomplete lenses as we peer into our own fallen souls.

Deep down, we know that.
And that, perhaps, is why robots frighten us so much.

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