In an article in Wired, Bill Joy, chief scientist at Sun Microsystems, warns that advances in robotics and in nanotechnology could result, as soon as 2030, in a computer technology that may replace the human species. Hans Moravec, of the artificial intelligence (AI) lab at Carnegie Mellon, pushes the time back to 2040 but agrees, "by performing better and cheaper, the robots will displace humans from essential roles. Rather quickly, they could displace us from existence."
What is a Christian to make of predictions such as these? Is the idea that computers are the next step in evolution compatible with traditional Christian understandings of what it means to be human? Is there anything about being human that machines will never duplicate? Even though computer science and technology have a long way to go before computers will begin to think or act at all like human beings, now is the time for us to examine what motivates the field of artificial intelligence and what exactly it is we hope to create through that field. Whether computers, our "mind children," as Moravec calls them, are positioned to replace humanity or to coexist with us, whether we even wish to pursue the dream of AI at all, depends on which aspect or aspects of our own nature we hope to copy in our attempt to create autonomous machines.
It is this larger question of what it means to be human that is graphically posed by AI. The goal of AI is to create an "other" in our own image. That image will necessarily be partial, thus we must determine just what it is in ourselves that computers must possess or demonstrate to be considered our "mind children." The question of what we humans might share with one completely other to ourselves has been examined by Christian theologians through the concept of the image of God in which, according to Genesis 1, human beings were created. Is this image that humans share with God related to the image we wish to share with our own creation in AI? What part of our nature do we consider so important that we wish to image it in our creation? This book examines what it means to create in one's own image in the dual contexts of Christian theology and the field of artificial intelligence. In both fields, the image being transferred from creator to creature has been viewed in a variety of ways yet is always something central to our understanding of what it means to be human. The goal is to see whether these understandings of the human condition, from two such disparate fields, are at all commensurable and to explore what implications our concept of being human might have, both for the project of creating and coexisting with artificially intelligent creatures and for the project of creating a Christian spirituality that is relevant in a technological age.