Artificial intelligence and Christmas

Dr Derrick Aarons

Sunday, December 24, 2017

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TOMORROW is Christmas, a day that carries religious as well as secular significance in the western world.

For Christians, the day is celebrated as the day on which Jesus Christ was born in a manger as the son of God, of virgin birth to two young people, Mary and Joseph. Christmas is preceded by the period of Advent, a four-week period during which there is a spiritual preparation for the coming of Christ and much foretelling of the birth of baby Jesus.

For individuals of more secular persuasion, the day is the cumulation of a period of anticipatory joy, punctuated by extensive shopping (consumerism), decoration of house and home, the purchasing of gifts for friends, family, and loved ones, and preparation of food and drink for the family gathering that brings together many from both near and far.

Expressing love at Christmas

The two approaches to the season are not, however, mutually exclusive. Many Christians prepare their homes lavishly, indulge in baking 'Christmas' cakes, the 'drawing' of sorrel, the preparation of ham, and the buying of gifts that are presented at Christmas as an expression of love for others. Many secular individuals, despite not actively involved in organised religion and its various manifestations, nevertheless express their spirituality in several ways. This may be expressed and shared through their involvement in charity to others, or in creative expressions or tangible offerings that may bring joy to many people.

Religion, religious expressions and spirituality lie along a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum are the strong, and in some circumstances fanatic believers in the existence of God. At the other end are those who avow atheism. Between these two poles are to be found people of varying faith, agnostics, and individuals seeking to make sense of the world. This pluralism exists in many societies around the world and individuals from all sectors of society have contributed positively to society's advancement and development.

Artificial intelligence

Mankind has made so much progress in technological innovations in recent times that artificial intelligence is now predicted to overtake human intelligence in the very near future.

Under these circumstances, however, for those who believe in Jesus as the son of God and his virgin birth, how might they reconcile the existence of an all-powerful God and his dictates for mankind going forward with the rapid advances in artificial intelligence that falls under no religious guidance?

Artificial intelligence has no religious beliefs or spiritual existence, emotions, or reasoning that may be swayed by political or other considerations. For instance, when artificial intelligence acts through computerised technology, mistakes are not made since mistakes are often a manifestation of man's poor judgement, while artificial intelligence functions solely on evidence, logic and computerised precision.

In light of this reality, therefore, some have been proposing that artificial intelligence may well present an alternative to organised religion. This possible role has recently emerged through the expansive effects of technology and its applications.

The capital of computerised technology is Silicon Valley in California, USA, where recently there has been what is described as religious 'start-ups'.

Start-ups are businesses that 'begin from scratch', supposedly on a novel idea or premise that may prove successful in the medium or long term. Google, Facebook, Amazon, and other technological giants all began as start-ups, requiring investments and confidence in the product that eventually proved remarkably successful.

Developing a Godhead

A non-for-profit religious organisation using the name 'Way of the Future' was recently registered in California. The organisation aims to 'develop and promote the realisation of a Godhead based on artificial intelligence, and through understanding and worship of the Godhead — contribute to the betterment of society'.

'Way of the Future' is just one of several quasi-religious organisations now operationing in the technology belt of the California area. The rationale is that the church and organised religion do a terrible job of reaching out to the types of individuals who normally populate the Silicon Valley.

The chairperson for one such organisation, the Christian Transhumanist Association, argues that artificial intelligence can participate in Christ's redemptive purposes by ensuring it is imbued with Christian values. So even if persons do not 'buy in to' organised religion, they can buy in to the notion of 'doing unto others'.

Portending Christian values

In this respect, they argue that religion and science actually converge conceptually in this singular mission. So, they state that God, if he exists as the most powerful of all singular entities, already has pure organised intelligence, which is an intelligence that spans the universe, including the sub-atomic manipulation of physics.

So, what are your thoughts on this? Can artificial intelligence that is programmed and focused on serving Christian causes such as serving others, helping the needy and down-trodden, spreading the gospel, and raising awareness around moral issues, be accepted by Christians as a worthwhile medium for doing the will of Christ?

Derrick Aarons MD, PhD is a consultant bioethicist/family physician, a specialist in ethical issues in medicine, the life sciences and research, and is the Ethicist at the Caribbean Public Health Agency – CARPHA. (The views expressed here are not written on behalf of CARPHA)




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