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?

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