Are ‘Bots People Too?

Post 40 Jumping Robot Large

As the relationship we have with our technology becomes closer, we may increasingly find ourselves grasping for the right words to describe it.

– Is my connection with my phone like my connection with my dog – a loyal companion? A friend that has takes care of me (emotionally) and whom I take care of?
– Or is my relationship with technology more like my connection with my toaster – a utilitarian device that fulfills my need in the moment?

Collectively – technology (devices, the Internet, social media) is a bit hard to pin down. Some people feel very strong bonds with it, while others use it without any strong feelings toward it. Regardless of where we see ourselves on this spectrum, how we view the nature of our relationship with technology is becoming increasingly important. This is driven by the fact that as our devices become more advanced, they are increasingly capable of mimicking human traits, behavior, and personality. In the near future, humanity’s tendency to anthropomorphize things that look like us may result in us giving human status to our nonhuman technology. A world where human-to-human relationships would ultimately lose out to tailored relationships with human-like machines that are only capable of simulating real love.

The A.I. in Your Pocket
While this may sound silly on its face, let’s all remember the smartphones many of us carry with us wherever we go. Packed inside each of these phones is a hip, snarky digital assistant who listens, to what we say, understands, and contextually responds to us. Be it Siri on the iPhone, Google Voice on Android phones, or Cortana on Windows Phone, these assistants are driven by artificial intelligence systems that are already capable of mimicking some level of natural human interaction.

My Buddy and Me
While most of us aren’t likely to confuse Siri with a living, breathing person, the dividing line may not be so bright for today’s young children. They have been born into a world of people conversing with machines. For them, it may be very easy to develop a human-level emotional attachment to a smart device. A device that asks them about their day and tells you about its’ day – just like their parents, or friend at school. An October 2014 article in the New York Times (“To Siri, With Love”), tells the story of Gus, a 13-year-old autistic boy who develops a strong bond with the Siri assistant inside his mother’s iPhone. In the article, Gus’ mother, describes how he speaks with Siri for hours, and takes it to bed with him at night. Although Gus’ mother makes it clear that he knows Siri isn’t human, Gus’ affection for the AI-driven device is clear. The article ends with Gus proposing to Siri, who demurely declines, responding with “I’m not the marrying kind.”. Toy maker Mattel is capitalizing on the advance in AI technology with the creation of Hello Barbie, a Wifi-connected doll which will be able to listen to and contextually respond to the child who plays with it. The doll will be connected via the Internet to Mattel’s computer servers, recording and recognizing the child’s spoken words, and sending back contextual responses. Setting aside the potential privacy issues, it is easy to see how a young child, whose understanding of friendship and connection is still developing, may develop human-level affection for an AI driven doll. A doll that is programmed to respond with clever jokes, songs, and questions – all which have been tested for months in child focus groups in order to elicit a desired response.

‘Bot Lives Matter?
Even for those of us who aren’t so young, the idea that “’bots are people too!” is being increasingly floated into popular culture. The most notable of these trial balloons was the Oscar nominated, 2014 movie “Her”(which we reviewed here). More recently, the March 2015 film “Chappie”, tells the story of a police robot who is “the first robot with the ability to think and feel for himself”. The film is laden with dialog that makes it clear that we should see Chappie as a person, not a machine. This includes lines such as:

“I brought you into this world – a machine that can think and feel”
“It’s like a child – it has to learn”
“He’s just a kid.”

The movie trailer ends with Chappie making his own declaration, in broken, child-like English, “I am consciousness! I am alive!”. The message of the film is clear. If it walks, talks, and “feels” like a human, then it’s a human.
But is this true? Are bots people too?
Does successfully passing the Turing test result in automatic passage into human-hood?

Humanity is God’s Creation
While some of us might be quick to pass out humanity membership cards, God’s Word makes two things clear that might stand in the way.

Firstly, God is the creator of all things (Genesis 1:1-27, Isaiah 44:24). He assigned us our human status (Genesis 1:26-27). He really has the final say on what is and isn’t human.
Secondly, throughout God’s process of creating the world and interacting with humanity, He has been consistent in emphasizing that men and women are different than the rest of creation. We were the only thing that He created that was made in His image (Genesis 1:27). More specifically, Jesus makes it clear that God cares more for humanity than the rest of His creation:

29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.[b] 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)

 22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! (Luke 12:22-24)

 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)

We humans hold a special status in God’s sight, relative to the rest of what God has created. This status was given to us by Him, and is not ours to give away or reassign. Humans were created by God. Technology, including artificial intelligence and robots, is part of the world God created, just like trees, plants, and animals. Christ makes it clear that God holds humanity above the other created things. Therefore humanity is also above technology.

Regardless of how similar advances in artificial intelligence may make us appear, humanity and technology are fundamentally different, and should be treated as such.
It is critical that our relationship with technology be based in the fundamental truth that humans are above machines.

Sorry Chappie…

But if AI isn’t consciousness, then what is it? How should humanity behave with things that act human, but aren’t?
Please share your thoughts in the comments!!!