In this article, the author reflects on artificial intelligence and its role in today’s society.
Whether we believe it or not, whether we want it or not, artificial intelligence is present in our lives. Yes, it may seem like something out of a science fiction movie, but the reality is that if you use a moderately modern washing machine, if you use a word processor on your computer, if you put your fingerprint on your smartphone to activate it, if you have an irrigation control or an automatic water heater… you are interacting with artificial intelligence.
For some time now, several films (Blade Runner, The Matrix, Her, Robot Me, Tron, among many others) have tried to show the challenges and dangers we face with artificial intelligence. What would happen if there came a time when machines rose up against humans? How could we distinguish human action from the action of a robot? What moral value could artificial intelligence have? Can a machine have feelings? To what extent is it permissible for machines to make decisions for human beings?
In this regard, an interesting experience is the one launched some time ago by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) called ‘Moral Machine’. It is a platform for gathering a human perspective on the moral decisions made by intelligent machines, such as autonomous cars. The proposal is to show moral dilemmas where a car without a driver must choose the lesser of two evils, for example, between killing two passengers or five pedestrians. As an outside observer, you can judge which result you find most acceptable. Plus, you can see how your answers compare to other people’s. It even allows you to design your own scenarios, sharing the experience with other users.
Another really interesting example is the ‘My Line’ project. As I write this, there is only one video available on Youtube that presents this initiative in which, by means of artificial intelligence, anyone with a phone and without an Internet connection is allowed to access the entire universe of information available on the Web. This is similar to what Siri or Cortana assistants allow on current mobile devices, but without the need for Internet access: just a ‘regular’ phone call. My Line’ is able to answer many practical questions to make life easier, especially for people in areas that are difficult to reach or have few resources.
Personally, I don’t think we should demonize artificial intelligence in the first place. As has long been the case with the debate on the use of technology applied to various areas of life, the key is to make use of it as a means, not an end.
In 2014, Stephen Hawking signed an open letter with another group of scientists and public figures warning of the risks of artificial intelligence for the future of humanity if we allow it to take control and decide for us. On the other hand, Anne Foerst, a German Lutheran theologian, has come to propose a theological dialogue within the framework of artificial intelligence. Although his position is not entirely justified, it is true that his frontier reflection opens the door for theology not to be alien to this reality present in our lives. As Francisco J. Genova concludes in his reflection on ‘The Encounter between Theology and Artificial Intelligence’ (2017), the reality of the world today is inseparable from artificial intelligence and the other technologies that are deployed alongside it. A display that is nothing but the display of the creative dimension that is the image of the Creator God. A display that puts at stake the possibility of consummating what he is called to from the bottom of his being, or of frustrating him by pushing his destiny to failure. A new theology must be aware of this and not be afraid to walk on the frontier.
Artificial intelligence is not something of the future: it is already present in our lives. It is a challenge, an opportunity and, why not, a risk if we are not able to guide its development well. The great advances of humanity have always been surrounded by controversy, dissenting voices and reckless judgments. Let us hope that the technological progress of recent decades will lead to human development towards equality of opportunity for all and not to a wider gap between the rich few and the vast majority of the poor.