Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil
On this last Sunday our Pastor was preaching on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, it was a good sermon. You can listen for yourself here. The main point is that the Knowledge of Good and Evil is all about independence - independence enough for moral reasoning and independence from God. But listening I began to thinking about stories that have been running through the media lately on recent hopes for drone technology.
The ethics and issues surrounding the use of drones in warfare is getting serious and Amnesty International is campaigning around the ethics of drones.
Firstly, existing large aircraft such as the F-16 can now be retrofitted as drones. This changes the game in terms of payload, distance and speed. Secondly, and more seriously, the U.S. (mainly) wants to develop technology for fully automated warfare. Lethal Autonomous Robots are still someway off, but maybe not too far. Currently the trigger is in the hands of a human, but soon it may not be. Now this won't be close to what we may call High AI, this will beLow AI driven by recognition software and decision rules algorithms that though complex are still too simple for moral reasoning. There is the usual arguments about why this is good, obviously it is particularly good for the technology industries building these things, but for me any argument that they are good is spurious on a single point - the decision to take a life as bad as that is should cost another human something.
Peter Nowak's book Sex, Bombs and Burgers argues the rather commonsensical notion that war, food and porn drives much modern technology. And so it seems to be true here. But, that our first real attempts at AI should break the suggested 1st Law of Robotics (ie A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm) and with the history of science fiction exploring unintended consequences of machines that are too literal such as 2001 or gone a muck - The Matrix; these developments are particularly galling.
Drone warfare is happening way too fast and without enough of the public becoming engaged in the changes. Do we really want to give up moral decisions to robots. Having made our own bad decision back in the garden with our own creations we aren't going to 'let them decide'. Well actually this isn't exactly true, instead we are going to make them our killers. Even now the operators of Drones even at a distance still suffer from war illnesses which should be no surprise.
Robot ethics in general
There is a nuanced discussion of Robot ethics and legal status here http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/morals-and-the-machine/4881302
As a Christian it didn't come close to discussing all the issues that robot ethics raise (to be fair it is only an hour long) but my mind kept racing ahead yes but yes but..... back in Genesis yada yada yada. But the academic engineer, who I must admit I have some sympathy for kepts arguing for robots to replace humans in dangerous, dull and dirty jobs (DDD) - but who is making that moral judgement academics who prefer to think than do and companies that want to save a buck because the 3Ds have typically been relatively well paid jobs. How many of the people doing those jobs have been asked what they think of their job.
Noreen Herzfeld maybe right that high AI is someway off, but I am thinking that Christians need to start having urgent discussions about the 21 Century. She seems to be definitely correct that AI is a response to Cosmic Loneliness.
I have been seriously blogging on technology and Christian faith for a little over a year now and I want to say that the more I explore the topic the more it grows and the more I am bewildered by the change we are rushing into. Not frightened, because I God still holds the future but alarmed by how deaf Christians are to the change. In 2011 Laity Lodge in Texas held a conference on technology and Christianity (read Dave Stearns blog on it) - I didn't go but I have listened to the MP3s. Then last year 2012 Seattle Pacific University ran a conference on the Digital Society most run by IT practioners. You can probably still download audio of this event from Itunes U. I was at the this second event and thought it was great, but a year on as I look back I am profoundly struck by how preliminary these discussions were. It was like attending a Christian conference on Sci Fi, the topic was fun and interesting but there seemed an otherness, an unrealness.
I am not a luddite, I am not Ellulian, I am not a Borgmannite, as should be clear from summer series this year that perhaps technology should be seen as Go'd idea all along. Mostly, the implementation of modern technology is some really excellent stuff, some mixed messy stuff (see VanderLeest's Joe Lost his Job http://www.calvin.edu/weblogs/deusexmachina/joe-lost-his-job/ ) but there is also room to say some technologies are bads.
Mostly as Oz Guinness would say I want Christian to think. In case Christians haven't noticed yet TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE is here and it ain't going away. What even are the questions what are topics for discussion how do we engage the minds of the digital natives on Faith and 21 Century. Its real and its real important.