The Paradox of A.I. and Spirituality
This is the sixth key in my blog, where we examine the compatibility - or lack thereof - between technology and spirituality. To be clear, my stance is not anti-tech. Obviously, technology has permitted the creation of this blog and has also given us the ability to understand our world better, improve medical sciences and communicate globally and an instant. Technology is amazing, but nobody can deny that it has limits, like everything else in our material world. There are staunch advocates of technology who would disagree with me, and this key will address one of them.
For the sake of some of our readers, let's quickly define A.I. (Artificial Intelligence)...
Simply stated, A.I. is "the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior" . Artificial Intelligence is not limited to machines, as programs are able to create algorithms and calculations that used to take months or even years to figure out. As an avid musician, I even use an A.I. program to refine my music audio files ! It would be a blatant denial to ignore the benefits of A.I. On the other hand, some people view A.I. as the inevitable savior of humankind, and this is best expressed through the concept of 'singularity' presented by Ray Kurzweil, who is by far the most active A.I. proponent on the planet. For those who are unaware of this concept, singularity basically states that "humans will transcend biology". It is the merging of (hu)man and machine. The idea of transcending biology in itself is genuinely paradoxical, because as humans, we are biology !
Singularity also raises many ethical questions, such as 'what' happens when people do not consent to singularity ? 'Who' will enforce this ? 'How' would singularity be regulated ? Could it potentially infringe on basic civil liberties ? In fact, A.I is also being used for mass surveillance, and this is certainly cause for concern. Children have huge imaginations. What separates a child from an adult is that the adult addresses the tangible reality, while the child insists on having a unicorn because they exist... somewhere. I am not the only one who questions the limitations of A.I. In a recent online article from The Guardian, where computer scientist and philosopher Brian Cantwell Smith points out that "Judgment is not simply a way of thinking about the world, but emerges from a particular relationship to the world that humans have and machines do not." (Malik, K. 2020) It's the distinction between reckoning and judgment. We are biology. Machines are not. Machines can reckon, but only humans can judge. Our judgments may not always be correct, but we humans have that capacity.
While Ray Kurzweil predicts that singularity will happen by 2045, most of us are contemplating what human survival will even look like in ten years, in a world of rising climates, limited fresh water sources and failing institutions. With all the benefits of A.I, it doesn't seem to be the answer to these escalating problems. While the inventor and author Ray Kurzweil has absolutely no background in theology, he did write a book called 'The Age of Spiritual Machines'. Paradoxically, the book's title seems to indicate the most obvious limitation of machines - they contain no spirit ! Even from the point of view that spirit is consciousness, A.I. has not created that consciousness. In fact, one of the greatest questions in religion and theology is the question of the origin of consciousness. In ancient India, the human mind was held in the highest regard as the carrier of consciousness, with unlimited potential once tamed and harnessed. In the west, we think of the mind as the brain. In the east, the mind inhabits every cell of the body. That, is consciousness !
Since A.I. comes from machines - built by humans - and machines are material, therein lies another problem. Machines have nothing to do with spirit ! Spirituality encompasses all that is subtle, energetic and unseen. Spirit is invisible, and Jesus once said, 'God is Spirit'. It is the essence of life force inside the body, which is called 'prana' in the ancient, Sanskrit language. We humans can be considered organic machines in a sense, but spirituality hints that we are so much more than that. We're spirits in a material world. We contain a divine spark, and this spark is inherent in every human being. It is the concept of 'Namaste'. As a famous, Serbian proverb says, "Be humble, for you are made of Earth. Be noble, for you are made of stars." This proverb could not apply to A.I. creations, no matter how magnificently human they may seem.