In the summer of 2008, I attended a lecture on artificial intelligence and Christian faith at Cambridge University. At the C.S. Lewis Conference's annual Summer Institutes, Nigel Cameron of Washington's Center for Policy on Emerging Technology gave us a cursory glimpse of some of the fast-developing advancements in the field of A.I. His primary purpose was to introduce and to explain a few of the real and challenging ethical dilemmas that these technologies were posing for researchers, academic institutions, and political bodies. For those of us who were on the outside looking in, it was almost a bit surreal. First, the technologies that were already being developed sounded like they were coming out of a sci-fi novel. It was hard to believe that we would see some of these things in our lifetime. However, we were told and we are now seeing that technology is advancing far faster than most of our imaginations. Second, and probably for the reason that the advancements seemed so futuristic to our ears, the ethical issues and the dangers attending these developments, also seemed incredible.
Well, in the past few weeks, I have encountered a couple of things that have definitely confirmed the words of that lecture. First, one of Cambridge's most famous professors, Stephen Hawking gave a stark warning about where A.I. is headed in the not so distant future (Hawking on the end of the human race). He predicts the possibility of the end of humanity in a generation. For most people, the thought that machines can be given brains that will easily outsmart the human race sounds really far-fetched. However, it is not fiction. It is in the works.
Second, I remember being encouraged by one possibility that was in development in Japan at that time. Honda was working on designing a wheel chair that you could control with your mind. I thought "Wouldn't that be great. People without mobility could just think where they wanted to go and they could get there." Then, a few weeks ago, I saw this video by the pop group, "OK Go" (I Won't Let You Down video).
The main star in the video was Honda's UniCub chair. It is controlled by your thoughts. You can see the technology demonstrated and explained in the first part of this behind the scenes interview. I do hope that this does make life a great deal easier for people whose lives are severely restricted by disabilities.
It was a bit ironic for me that my discovery of this remarkable technological feat was in a music video that repeatedly and repeatedly and repeatedly sings the statement "I won't let you down." (If you didn't click on the video above, just go do it for one minute, and you will know what I mean.) If anything, technology has become the god of our age. We are enthralled with it. We are increasingly dependent upon it. We can't wait for the next Apple product announcement. We watch with amazement as pictures are beamed back from before unimaginable places in space. Maybe, we can find a new world, a new home, or many new unpolluted, war-free, uninhabited planet paradises somewhere out there. We hope in science for the discovery to cure all our diseases. Maybe, we can even end death itself so we freeze our bodies and hope for that day. It is as if our generation looks at these rapid advancements in technology and we sing the words of the old Christmas hymn: "The hopes and fears of all the years, are met in thee tonight." We are banking on technology to come through for us.
Well, I am hoping that the warnings of Dr. Hawking, and all the realities of our technological age might bring us to a necessary awakening, by the grace of God. Technology can be and is being used for good. However, it will not replace the need for a real Saviour. Technology, as we know, can be a tool for great evil. The greedy get richer. The violent get more dangerous. The technology itself may turn out to be the Enemy which brings it all to a quick and unavoidable end.
To go back to OK Go's music video, the other line that keeps being repeated is this one: "Maybe you just need someone to trust? Maybe you just need someone to trust?" So, where do we end up with all this technological advancement? We end up back at the beginning. We need Someone who we really can trust. We need Someone bigger than technology to guide the hearts and minds of those who handle it all. We need Someone who really can give life and who won't turn on us when we trust in Him. We need Someone who loves us and, rather than destroying us, lays down His life for our healing, forgiving, and eternal future. We need Someone who really can make everything out of nothing and who will actually make everything new for our good.
Technology is a tool but it isn't our Saviour. The only Saviour of the world is the Son of the Creator of the entire universe. He alone can change our hearts, heal our diseases, raise the dead, rule the world, and make it all brand new. The gospel John reads "In the beginning was the Word (Jesus), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight. Who do you trust?