Technology Needs the Philosophical and Religious Person?
As our scientific and technological global community treks forward the usefulness of philosophy and religion is called into question by atheistic scientists. Leaders such as Neil deGrasse Tyson (atheist) and John Lennox (Christian) argue back and forth on the issue. The question deepens as people like Richard Dawkins argue that religion leads people to violence. The same is said of atheism, but I am not trying to make a point about who commits more violence and why. There is a pervasive idea that science will eliminate the need for philosophy and religion. This is not to mean that it will be possible to remove the rich heritage of philosophy and religion from our historically effected consciousness but rather that it will lose its function in society. It’s difficult to imagine humankind without it. What would it look like I wonder? Thinking about it only makes me want to ask more questions; some questions that are familiar and others that stretch the mind. For example, where does morality come from without philosophy and religion? This is an obvious gauntlet thrown down whenever this issue arises. Atheists and theists both create great arguments for this question. Atheism relies on forged meaning and cultural common sense, while religious groups such as Christianity challenge the functional application of a shifting culturally formed meaning. Instead we favor a morality based on the unchanging character of a just God. A future without a backbone of philosophy and religion begs much stranger questions than this first one. Here are a few I have been thinking about and are the ones most troubling me right now. At what point do our scientific creations, whether biological or technological cease to be tools and become persons? Does science have an answer for when a thinking machine has rights? We see these questions in the morality plays drawn out in Star Trek. These are questions we have asked before but I think we need to revisit them as the reality of this approaches. One major reason I think we need to answer questions like these is that in answering them we tend to think anthropocentrically, placing ourselves as the dominant will and power. However, scientists estimate (or guestimate) that super-intelligent computers will exist in the relatively near future perhaps even in the next 50-90 years. What do you do with a computer that is more intelligent than humankind? What right does the human race have to impose its own forged and cultural sense of morality? What are the dangers of not imposing morality on such a creation? How should such a technology relate with its creator? It feels to me, perhaps because I am a Christian, that atheistic science loses its grip on answering such questions once you begin dealing with powers that understand the universe, physics, mathematics, etc. better than we do. Science is not static, at least for now it continues to be a changing reforming confluence of tested ideas. When a machine can do this better than us how can we answer these questions for them? This leads us into the horrifying question of what happens when a super-intelligence uses its own perspective to judge us. Would it have any reason to make judgments about us? You may feel like this issue doesn’t find relevance in your life today and that makes sense. Computers today are more like 3 year olds than super-intelligent persons. Nonetheless, It is precisely now that we should ask these questions because, as every parent knows, kids grow up fast.
I think philosophy and religion hold powerful cards in answering these questions. In philosophy, turning to the conceptual rather than the empirical may be a strong tool in answering our questions and training up a super-intellectual invention. Crossing the language bridge from 1’s and 0’s or quantum language into the philosophic world of linguistics may aid us in connecting a super-intelligence to humankind. Even the greatest finite intelligence will fail to recreate the object of its great intellectual focus due to the limitations of performance in language and being. We share this finitude regardless of our level of intelligence. A super-intelligence that relates itself to the finite existence of humankind may discover the importance of good cross-species relationship because of our collective understanding. Similar to how a dolphin’s view of the world might bring more vivid clarity to our human understanding of the world. Religion, such as Christianity points to faith in a God who transcends the boundaries of the finite and pierces the infinite by fully knowing (not limited by the separation of Him from the object) all creation. Christianity adheres to a morality for mankind that may be useful to our friend the super-intelligence because it makes morality claims that come from a source greater than us and it. God is righteous. It is His character that defines right and just for all creation. We then find ourselves once again in the difficult position of being made in the image of God and being asked to testify about Him to all creation, even one beyond our own intelligence. In this way we may build a relational bridge between us by way of the communal interpretation of value and meaning spurred by a creative communal God. There is something more than empirical data that makes something beautiful. Any intelligence will be shaped by our categorizations of beautiful, lovely, repulsive, evil, and good. It becomes, or has always been, our job to interpret and relate the world God created to his creation including our own.
Whatever answer takes its place as the final tool for building positive relations between a super intelligent technology and humanity I seriously hope it incorporates philosophical and religious elements because I don’t believe our understanding of science is exact enough to teach a computer to love its creators or at least not destroy them.
Neil Tyson, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmos:_A_Spacetime_Odyssey & John Lennox, https://youtu.be/JH7HlfaXFuk , 2015
Star Trek’s Data http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Measure_of_a_Man_%28Star_Trek:_The_Next_Generation%29
Super Intelligent computers, http://www.ted.com/talks/nick_bostrom_what_happens_when_our_computers_get_smarter_than_we_are
Child-like computers http://www.ted.com/talks/fei_fei_li_how_we_re_teaching_computers_to_understand_pictures