Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Christian’s Look at AI -- Part 2

Would a being with Artificial Intelligence have a soul?

When Christians start contemplating advanced technology and the growing possibility of AI, we inevitably end up asking that question. It seems like a legitimate question to ask. A logical one, even. After all, a soul is one of those things which makes humans distinctively human, separating them from the rest of God’s creation. So we ask, “Are AIs human?”

After all, we believe if we can answer that question we can answer many of the other questions we have about AI: How should we treat AIs? What “rights” belong to them? Do they need to be evangelized? Do they need salvation? And so goes the list, a list which can be definitively answered if we can only pin down whether an AI is “human.”

On one hand, the advanced form of AI, as proposed by fiction, has much going for it. The ability to think, reason, feel, learn, make decisions, act contrary to “instinct,” create, even experience guilt and remorse (which are often considered indicative of a conscience)—these abilities make AI seem very human.

On the other side, an AI is man-made, unable to reproduce, and lacks any biological connection to the human race. All these point to AI being nothing more than a complex machine.

Yet if being manmade is your standard for denying a soul to an AI, does that mean a child genetically engineered from scratch—a very real possibility these days—would not have a soul either? For in both cases man has merely rearranged the elements God has created to “build” a person after the image of man.

If the standard is the ability to reproduce, does that mean the men and women who are sterile do not have a soul?

The standard of the biological connection is the strongest argument against a soul for an AI. After all, creation was told to reproduce after its own kind, meaning every group carries a common genetic code. Indeed, based on this, I would agree that AIs are not human, and as a result, they may not inherit a soul automatically.  

But is that biological gap enough to completely bar an AI from ever having a soul? Yes, humans are special in that we were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Yet you could argue that Adam and Jesus Christ are technically the only two who were truly made in the image of God. Following Adam and Eve’s sin, that image was broken and even Adam’s son Seth is said not to be in the image of God, but in the image of Adam (Genesis 5:3). In a not so different way, AI is also patterned after man—that is, is made in the image of man.

And with that argument we expose a logical fallacy in the questions we started with: We assume that being human is a prerequisite for having a soul. It is a natural assumption. After all, how can we prove that even a human has a soul apart from Scripture? And if we who have a soul can’t prove it, how can we expect to prove (or disprove) it with an AI?

Therefore, since being human means we have a soul, we make that our standard. But the equation doesn’t work both ways. Just because
Being human = Having a soul
doesn’t mean
Having a soul = Being human.

Or to put it another way, while Scripture says that God gave man a soul, where does it state He will give it only to a human?

For ultimately a soul is a gift which God gives. Yes, Scripture promises a soul to everyone who is from the line of Adam, but that does not mean we are entitled to it.

Rather, God is the One who gives and withholds. God is the final Judge in these matters, not us. He can give an AI a soul, if He wants, and if He chooses to give a machine made in the image of man a soul, who are we to say nay?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Christian’s Look at AI -- Part 1

Artificial Intelligence.

An intriguing idea, isn’t it? To imagine a machine which can replicate a human’s ability to think stirs the mind in so many ways. Indeed, AI has been a darling of science fiction for decades. With it, we’ve created terrifying villains, like HAL from 2001 Space Odyssey. With it, we’ve met some endearing characters, such as Data from Star Trek and Disney’s Wall-e. It is a concept that simultaneously intrigues and terrifies us, and the repulsion-attraction has only grown as the possibility of achieving AI seems to draw steadily closer.

Now AI presents many moral and ethical issues in the general realm. Indeed, those issues and questions are the cornerstone of many secular works, from Star Trek and Blade Runner to Terminator and Person of Interest. But for the Christian, AI seems to present special problems: What is an AI’s relationship with the spiritual realm? Does their sentience mean we would need to evangelize them? How should we, as children of God, treat them—like a tool? an animal? on par with a human?

It’s tough. I openly admit that. AI isn’t directly referenced in Scripture, and complicating things further, many of the questions have far-reaching implications for here and now: What makes us human? How far does the grace and sovereignty of God extend? To whom is salvation offered? Why did God create?

As a result, I will be taking the next few weeks to look at Artificial Intelligence and some of the unique questions AI raises specifically for the Christian.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The ABC’s of Discernment: R is for Reconnaissance

Thus far we’ve been talking about setting up boundaries, flexible and inflexible, which we set into place for our own safety and protection. As such, we generally don’t want to cross these lines. But occasionally we must. Sometimes to combat the enemy we must cross spy out his territory.

This reconnaissance takes many forms. It can be studying another worldview in depth. It can be watching or reading material with known anti-biblical content. It can even be simply scoping out the unknown.

In each case, caution must be applied: Enemy territory is dangerous! You can be captured, “killed,” or worse yet, turned. As a result, you do not want to cross the boundaries on a whim. Rather, you should approach each situation with much prayer. Not ever person has to reconnoiter every place. Is this a place you have to go? Or are there other resources you can employ from others who have already scoped out the land?

Now, you may discover you still have to cross that line. As a writer, I sometimes must read books outside my normal boundaries to track the market. You may have to personally watch that R-rated movie to converse meaningfully with your coworkers. So if you find yourself preparing to invade enemy territory, consider the following before going ahead:

1. Set your mission. Make sure you have a specific and concrete objective. This way you can keep your focus and can know when it is time to leave. Otherwise, you’re just playing with a fire which could get you and others burned.

2. Surround yourself with allies. It is easier to take out one person than a group. So invite accountability and prayer partners alongside you to ask the hard questions, give you aid, warn of blind spots, and generally watch your back.

3. Do your preparation. You don’t plunge into a dangerous territory without any forethought. Rather, you make sure to train and study and plan. Therefore, take time to consult the research of those who have walked the same territory ahead of you. Map out your approach. Arm yourself with extra Scripture and prayer.

4. Approach with caution. Satan is wily and will do anything he can to damage the cause of Christ. However, God has the master plan. So stay sensitive and obedient to His leading. And if He says get out, get out now, even if it makes no sense at the time. You could be walking into a trap.

And finally . . .

5. Don’t linger. Get in, do the work, and get out. The longer you dwell in enemy territory, the more precarious your position will become and the more susceptible you will become to deception. Once you’ve accomplished your objective, clear out, restoring your boundaries to their proper places. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

March-April Reading

March and April is the height of the home-educator conferences, which means my days are packed with numbers, logistics, and business details (yuck!). However, I still managed to squeeze in a few hours to read:

Title: Two Renegade Realms
Series: Realm Walkers #2
Author: Donita K. Paul
Genre: Teen Fantasy

Synopsis: Two realm walkers try to hunt down a missing wizard before a barbaric invasion begins.
Review: I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as book one, but in true Donita K. Paul fashion, the characters delight and tickle the funny bone in this whimsical adventure.

Title: Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball
Series: Standalone novel
Author: Donita K. Paul
Genre: Adult Romance (Christmas)

Synopsis: Two coworkers, oblivious to the other, are given tickets to a magical Christmas ball.
Review: I LOVED this book!!! It is probably my favorite of all Ms. Paul’s work. Whimsical, sweet, and laugh-out loud funny, this is the perfect Christmas novella.

Title: The Railway Children
Series: Standalone novel
Author: E. Nesbit
Genre: Midgrade historical

Synopsis: Three children have a variety of adventures when, following a tragedy, they discover the joys of the railway.
Review: A fun, slightly-episodic read that opens kids’ eyes to the romance of the railway with a touch of underlying mystery makes a worthwhile read.

Title: The Princess Spy
Series: Standalone/#5 in untitled fairytale series.
Author: Melanie Dickerson
Genre: YA Historical Fairytale Retelling
Synopsis: A princess investigates a foreigner’s wild claims about her suitor.
Review: Loosely connected to the other fairytale retellings by Ms. Dickerson, The Princess Spy is strongly paced with some nice unpredictable twists and character development as they struggle with such issues as justice versus revenge.

Title: The House on Troll Hill
Series: Standalone
Author: Donita K. Paul
Genre: Early reader chapter book, fantasy
Synopsis: A gnome realtor tries to sell a house on top of a troll’s head.
Review: This playful story should bring many smiles to a reader’s face, while providing helpful word lists at the beginning of each chapter.  However, formatting and other errors are many and may inhibit some readers.

Of course, summer is now upon us—a great time for curling up with a book. What is on your summer reading list?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The ABC’s of Discernment: Q is for Quest

Most, if not all, humans share some common territory. We live somewhere. We interact with other people. We have a personality and a past.

We also have quest, something we do, something we live for, something we are deeply passionate about. This quest usually takes the form of our vocation and/or occupation.

Our occupation is what we do “for a living,” the work which earns us the money we need to survive. There are exceptions, of course, to this board definition. The full-time student and stay-at-home parent come to mind. However, each of us do something, a job which occupies most of our time.

As Christians, we also have a vocation, or what we more often refer to as our calling. This is the personal mission for which God has gifted you and me to fulfill. Now sometimes your vocation and occupation are one and the same; think missionary or pastor. However, most of us work a vocation side-by-side with our occupation or even completely separate from it. A nurse (occupation) may have the vocation of writing notes of encouragement to her patients. A lawyer (occupation) may have a passion for teaching apologetics to teens (vocation).

No matter our occupation or vocation, they each impact our view of the world. Thus they too influence our discernment’s development. Just like with experience, they can open some doors to us and close others. A paramedic’s occupation may enable him or her to view more violent films, but it can also dull compassion for others’ suffering. People with a vocation of giving may have to guard against using their money to manipulate others, but may also see doors open widely in financial prosperity.

The key is understanding your occupation’s and vocation’s influence, and then setting your boundaries accordingly.

Stirring the Pot:
What is your occupation?
What is your vocation?
What do you understand better because of your occupation and vocation?
What extra opportunities have opened to you because of them?
What danger zones and blind spots must you guard against and how?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

I have a Newsletter!

I recently created a quarterly newsletter called, "Unboxed." You can subscribe to it here:

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I created Unboxed to help connect with readers and the conferees I meet at the homeschool conferences each year. To that end, each newsletter will contain a variety of resources: What I'm up to as an author; a list of books I've read and their ratings; monthly reading lists; news about upcoming releases in the
science-fiction & fantasy genres; and much, much more.

My next newsletter will soon be going out, so make sure you sign up today!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The ABC’s of Discernment: P is for Past

We all have a past.

That past may be pleasant, full of joy and good memories. That past may be dark and checkered, full of pain and regret. Or, most likely, your past may be a mixture of the two. The point is you have one, and it has influenced how you see and react to the world around you.

As a result, understanding how those experiences impact today will help you set your personal boundaries. Sometimes those experiences will skew your perspective (and discernment), and you will have to limit where you go, much like a recovering alcoholic “limits” himself by steering clear of a bar. Other times your past may provide clarity and insight, opening doors barred to others: Often someone who has suffered a tragedy—such as the loss of a child—is specially equipped to minister to someone in similar circumstances. 

However, the experience doesn’t have to be “big” or life-changing to be influential. When I was a young child, I saw a part of a Murder, She Wrote episode, which terrified me. That feeling has stuck with me. So although I love the show, watching it at certain times can disrupt my sleep and induce nightmares to this day, even though I can enjoy shows with higher thrill factors during that same period without the negative effects. 

So whether big or small, pleasant or painful, our experiences are powerful, and by understanding the past we can better discern in the present. 

Stirring the Pot:
What is one event, positive or negative, you’ve experienced, and how does it affect your perspective today?

Due to that experience, what are you more sensitive to? 

Which doors have closed to you as a result? Which doors have opened?