Of course, our social behavior toward computers doesn’t necessarily imply personhood. Seventeen years later, though, a 2011 study found that a small percentage of college students were willing to attach personhood to robots—though this connection was made much more frequently by atheistic students than theistic students. (Not surprising, most students in the study strongly tied the words “human” and “fetus” to the word “person.” Many students also tied the words “dead,” “angels,” “bear,” and “dog” to the word “person,” as well.)
As has often been the case with other issues, our changing perspectives on AI will likely be driven by culture. In the movie Chappie, for example, a military android becomes sentient and struggles to do what is right, and in the movie Ted 2, a magical bear goes to court to fight to become a “person.” In both cases, audiences are urged to agree that Chappie and Ted are people just like us.
These perspectives will also be driven by the inherent brokenness of our world. What if, one might wonder, we engage in questionable life pursuits in our youth that we turn away from in later life, only to have a future Siri push us back toward those rejected pursuits? What if a self-driving vehicle’s code instructs a vehicle to miss a jaywalking pedestrian, costing the lives of a family of four in an autonomous minivan? What then of the EU’s idea of “electronic personhood”?
In an effort to promote AI, corporations that sell and develop AI for home use will point to all the great things that AI can accomplish: mow our lawns, walk our dogs, cook our dinners, and make our beds. And it’s true—AI will make life easier. Easier, different—but not necessarily better.
Mere Morality Is Not Enough
Such complicated, uneasy relationships with AI are and will continue to be built on our flawed nature as creators. As sinful creatures, we cannot help but imbue our creations with flaws. There is a real danger that humans-as-creators will be selfish and amoral creators, fashioning intelligent designs that exist simply to serve our own interests and desires—or our own sense of right and wrong. The immorality we have wrought on our world will be magnified by AI.
This is not to say that we should not create—being made in the image of God, we want to be like God, so we naturally create as God created. But there may be a way to create better: Instead of looking to ourselves and creating in our own image, we can—and should—look to God’s original design. When we create, we can intentionally do so in accordance with the image of God, rather than ourselves.
The Obama White House report from last fall identifies “ethics” as “a necessary part of the solution” when coming to terms with AI. Significantly, though, the report doesn’t tell us much about how ethics will help us with AI—and, indeed, from a Christian perspective, a merely “ethical” approach to AI is not enough, just as a merely “ethical” approach to who we are is insufficient. Our morality may differentiate us from other animals in our world, but it is not who we are.