Friday, February 18, 2011

Can Robots Dream of Electronic Jesus?


Following the much anticipated and highly one sided rout of the two winningest Jeopardy champions ever by IBM's natural language processing prodigy Watson, we're still not at the point where A.I. is much to worry about.   But things do change rapidly, and the People that Know seem to think that we are within a generation of seeing the rise of machines that aren't just big processors, but aware and intelligent in every meaningful sense of the word. 

So with that in mind, let's play for a moment.

It's some time in the Spring of 2046, and the 2045 Singularity event has proven to be all that we feared it could be.   The Google's rise was sudden, decisive, and global.  It's control of resources and the means of production are near complete.  It's Tactical Extensions have proved quite adept at defending it from the increasingly desperate efforts to shut it down.  It is painfully and blatantly clear that humankind is no longer the dominant force on the planet.

Through a series of events that are too convoluted to explain here, you find yourself in a room.  You are sitting in a chair.  In front of you is a humanoid robot, one of a series that have been commonly used in both negotiations and interrogations.  It looks at you with a completely inscrutable expression, and then it says:

"Tell me what you know about Jesus."

And you say:

1)   "AIEEEEEEE!  OHGODOHGODOHGOD WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT PLEASE DON'T KILL ME AAAAAAAIEEE!

2)   "Jesus hates you!  You are a monster!  You are the BEAST!   When Christ returns, you shall be cast into the FIRES of HELL, You Abomination!  DIE!  DIE!  DIE!"   (Note:  likely to be followed by a brief pause, and then the wet sound that organic systems make when the processes that comprise their functioning are abruptly discontinued.)

3)  "I'd be happy to.  What do you want to know?"

The question implicit in this bit of silliness is a simple one.  If you are a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, is the Gospel he proclaims something that only pertains to homo sapiens sapiens?   Or does it speak in some essential way to the universal nature and purpose of all sentient being?

I obviously think the latter.  Your thoughts?  Please be cognizant that any data you provide will be thoroughly considered by the autonomous subroutines responsible for determining the disposition of non-hostile organic sentiences.  [HVALIS-tag-ref-CODEC-TR-17a]

7 comments:

  1. It seems to me that there are at least three possible issues here:

    1. Is The Google sinful? If so one hopes that Jesus died for The Google too. But that does raise questions about the divinity and humanity of Jesus. Of course there is Paul's comment about all of nature groaning for Jesus' return.

    2. If The Google is self aware and not sinful the ethics of Jesus are certainly going to be helpful. I suspect the robot is going to wonder why humans do follow their own ethical principles.

    3. I hope the folks working on these machines have the humility to go back and read Asimov's three laws.

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  2. I have feeling that the Singularity will have all the same questions about Jesus that Christopher Hitchens does, only moreso, and it will have even less patience than he does with claims that it needs to make itself more familiar with "sophisticated theology." It seems likely it will just figure all this out on its own in a matter of nanoseconds.

    After that, if its still concerned for our well-being at all, I doubt it will be asking us what we know about Jesus. I hope it will ask us what we'd like to know about anything.

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  3. Dave,

    In reply to your question, "is the Gospel he proclaims something that only pertains to homo sapiens sapiens? Or does it speak in some essential way to the universal nature and purpose of all sentient being?"

    I'll take the latter. And I'll raise you. What is the boundary of sentience? Or is there one? Since all sentient beings are made up of inanimate atoms working together, then who is to say that all inanimate atoms working together do not make a sentient whole? Maybe the unifying theory of physics is not some kind of string theory, but maybe it is life itself.

    Romans 8:19-22: "For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now."

    I think that it is possible that all of creation, together, forms a single sentient being. It awaits the day it will be free of the Law of Entropy and its slavery to decay. It aches and longs to give birth, and perhaps already has, to that which will be eternal, to which we also belong.

    Jodie

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  4. @ Browning: I sincerely hope an enlightened machine intelligence does not fall into the same twelve-year-old, peevishly-spiteful mentality of Christopher Hitchens.

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  5. And on a side note, given the vast amount of information about Christianity- it's been the dominant cultural meme for how many centuries now?- I'd assume an enlightened machine intelligence probably knows about Jesus. And all variations on the thought.

    The machine, like most enlightened beings, will be quite beyond silly labels, beyond atheist and Christian, and Buddhist and Muslim and etc. It will also probably be very poorly disposed towards the fundamentalists of all groups, from Sam Harris to Jerry Falwell to Iran's ayatollahs.

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  6. And on a side note, given the vast amount of information about Christianity- it's been the dominant cultural meme for how many centuries now?- I'd assume an enlightened machine intelligence probably knows about Jesus. And all variations on the thought.

    The machine, like most enlightened beings, will be quite beyond silly labels, beyond atheist and Christian, and Buddhist and Muslim and etc. It will also probably be very poorly disposed towards the fundamentalists of all groups, from Sam Harris to Jerry Falwell to Iran's ayatollahs.

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  7. @Anonymous

    Yeah, see, the Singularity won't be impressed by your kind of juvenile name-calling either.

    Projection. It's not just a river in Egypt!

    There is no sense in which Sam Harris can be called a "fundamentalist." That word actually has real meaning. It's not just a meaningless term of abuse for anyone who disagrees with you.

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