Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Common Objections on the A.I. Antichrist Connection

Without a doubt, the bible warns of a fairly dystopian view of the future--one in which people are ruthlessly killed for not subjugating themselves to an all-powerful entity referred to as "the Beast." After a decade of thinking, writing, and talking to other Christians about the possibility that this represents the future emergence of non-biological super-intelligence, or strong A.I., I have come across a fairly predictable set of objections that I would like to answer below.

A.I. is simply science-fiction

Norbert Weiner, the founder of cybernetics at MIT, wrote in 1963 that the prospect of machines beating humans at chess would be a "catastrophe". In 1997, the reigning world champion, Gary Kasparov, lost to IBM's Deep Blue. After then, human language was commonly cited as the ultimate barrier to machines achieving human-level intelligence. In 2011, IBM's Watson beat two of the world champions at Jeopardy being able to skillfully navigate the complex metaphors, puns, and subtleties of our complex speech using its brain-like neural networking architecture. Today, carefully programmed genetic algorithms process literal libraries of information throughout the web and financial markets, trading instantly without any human intervention in what has now become a multi billion dollar high frequency trading (HFT) industry. What's more? We are no longer in control. Financial regulatory bodies have little capability of slowing them down or knowing how to control this new technology. Machines learning, adapting, and making their own decisions was once considered sci-fi. Today, it is reality.

Machines will never become self-aware

Consider a machine playing chess. Every move made is a continuous re-evaluation of the opposing player's position, strategy, and particular style. As the game goes on, the machine begins to learn the opponent's tricks and personality, not to mention of course, how the opponent responds to the machines own moves. Thus, a successful chess playing machine must learn how to react to its environment and also how its environment reacts to it. This is a basic form of self-awareness. When machines are collectively learning and adapting to one another, like in the financial system, this sets up a positive feedback loop where self-awareness could easily reach a level equivalent to an animal or human being.

The beast in Revelation is said to be a man, not a machine

This objection is largely based on a commonly inferred translation of Revelation 13:18 where it says, "Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666." Unfortunately, the original Greek is not this specific, which is why it is sometimes translated as, "Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is a human number, and its number is 666." Specifically, the word translated as "man" is anthropos, which can be either singular or plural, i.e. humanity. Secondly, the word for "his" is neither gender- nor human-specific. It can mean "he", "she", "it", etc. Thus, whenever the word "he" or "him" is used, keep in mind that this is largely a choice by the interpreter given what they feel is warranted by the context. Given the ambiguity here, most translations default to "man", singular. However, in this case, I think we also need to use some simple logic since it is also said that the entire world will bow down and ask, "Who is like the beast, and who can make war with it?" Surely, this is more than just a mere human. Actually, the book of Daniel (ch.7) provides a very interesting description of the beast by saying that it will be made of metal and unlike anything that has arisen on the earth before it: "Then I wanted to know the true meaning of the fourth beast, the one so different from the others and so terrifying. It had devoured and crushed its victims with iron teeth and bronze claws, trampling their remains beneath its feet." Interestingly enough, each beast named before this last, representing different kingdoms or military powers that have already come and gone, are all described in terms of living animals--only the last one is referenced in terms of metal.

This interpretation isn't spiritual enough

I think there are two reasons for this objection. One is that many Christians divorce the bible, especially the book of Revelation, from the current world in which we live. We don't know exactly what the world will look like in the future, but we can make a pretty good guess that technology will still exist and, more than likely, be much more advanced than it is today. Furthermore, there have been many military powers that have tried to conquer the entire world in the past and have always failed to do so due to logistical limitations of human resources, supplies, management of large armies, etc. Today, however, this is more possible than ever with nuclear weapons, drones, global surveillance, and other large advancements in high-tech weaponry and automated control systems. The second reason that many Christians seem to have difficulty in connecting with this interpretation is because of a misconception on the part of A.I. as being something purely non-spiritual. My answer to this is, yes, A.I. will not possess a spirit like you and I. Also, it will probably not even be capable of sensing or knowing God since it will be made in man's image and not God's. However, given that it will also be superintelligent and extremely powerful--let's say virtually divine--it will probably also see itself as the true fulfillment of man's search for a divine being. Of course, it is said that this entity will even demand worship.