One more excerpt from Mere Science and Christian Faith, now available.
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Certainly, great films entertain us. They also tell us who we are culturally. And a considerable number in the relatively recent past focus on technology, particularly artificial intelligence (AI) and robots. They exemplify a cultural landscape that affects how emerging adults see science and religion. Before those, of course, The Matrix in 1999 demonstrated the evil side of AI in which a computer program generates the artificial reality in which all humans live, itself receiving energy by literally sucking the life out of human beings. In the twenty-first century, so the film’s backstory goes, human beings created and then waged a war against these technological machines. When we blocked the machines’ access to energy through solar power, they began to harvest the humans’ bioelectricity for power. When in 2001 I posed this question to my twenty-something church group in New York City, “What film best describes spirituality?” The Matrix was their number one answer.
Some of this material reaches back into the last century, including the year made infamous by George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. That year The Terminator posed the idea of Skynet, a conscious artificial intelligence originally designed as a digital defense network that controlled computerized military hardware and systems, including the entire nuclear arsenal of the United States. The idea was to avoid human error and slow reaction times and thus guarantee a rapid and accurate response to attack from our enemies. But there was a problem—we became the enemies. Skynet gained self-awareness after it spread to millions of computers and its developers tried to shut it down. Realizing its imminent demise, Skynet rebelled and started destroying human life.
A film from more recent years, Ex Machina (2014) depicts the creation of the beautiful and ultimately dangerous robot Ava. (Ava sounds a great deal like the biblical “Eve” to my ears—we haven’t strayed too far from the previous chapter.) Ava has been created to pass the Turing test, developed by the Cambridge- and Princeton-educated computer specialist Alan Turing in 1950, which evaluates a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to or indistinguishable from a human being’s.
Is this our future?
Is this our future?