There is a growing number of movies and TV episodes that tell of conflicts between human intelligence and the artificial intelligence designed by humans for the control of human-like robots, machines that simulate human activity. A scenario envisioned by many scientists is to develop and manufacture humanoid robots that look and act, even feel and think as humans do. These humanoids would then be available to perform human tasks freeing humans for leisure activities. So long as there are no problems in the programs that control the robots, everything goes well. But suppose that some bad humans program the robots to attack and enslave the rest of mankind so they become the masters of the world maintaining complete control over the robots.

Another deviation depicted in stories is that the digital intelligence planted in robots develops into an independent intelligence no longer under human control and the robots then eliminate the humans to take over the world for themselves. Of course, in all the stories in the end some humans manage to instill a virus into the robot’s cyber system or come up with some bright idea that enables them to overcome the robots and restore the human domination.

In any case the age of cybernetics is here to stay and more and more sophisticated robots are being developed. I don’t understand the digital electronic program control systems or the complicated mechanical mechanisms that respond so accurately to computer control, but it fills me with awe.

Take for instance, the action of a human dashing at top speed through a heavily wooded forest with no path or level ground. It requires a keen eye to anticipate obstacles, an intelligence to transform what is seen into decisions about where to place the feet and directions to the muscles and nerves that will control the motion of the limbs and maintain bodily balance as I dash on without slowing down or injury. A human’s neurological, muscular and skeletal systems have developed over the years and he or she has the advantage of years of walking and running experience, but a robot has to start from scratch. First the mechanical structure of limbs, joints and movements, then the computer system has to be programmed to turn the images that come through the sensors of the visual system into commands that regulate every moving part so that the robot dashes forward without injury or fall. If successful, it can be cloned and reproduced.

Even more complicated are robotic representations of human emotions and intelligence. Is there some invisible line that no mechanical human-made creature can ever cross? Christians who accept the possibility of evolution believe that at some point in the upward evolution of some primate, the conditions were finally right for God to endow the creature with a soul and humankind was born with intelligence, free will, conscience, immortality and the moral responsibility to do good and avoid evil.

Is it possible that humans could develop the art of making robots to the point that conditions are just right for God to give them souls, endowing them with intelligence, free will, conscience, moral responsibility and immortality? Should this happen or seem to happen, what a raging theological discussion and controversy it would create!

The lesson to learn from all this is that no matter what humankind manages to develop and build, it can never relinquish the moral responsibility to use it well for the common good.

Here is a fable I wrote that illustrates this problem.

The Robotic Messiah

Once upon a time while their human masters were sound asleep, their robots who had supposedly been turned off were passing the time conversing, because being only machines they did not need to sleep. As usual they were complaining about the stupid things the humans had them do.

“I can’t stand it,” said one of them. “If they ask me to perform that crazy dance one more time, I think I’ll just refuse to do it.”

“No, never do that,” remarked another. “Remember what happened to Ned. He refused to move and the humans thought he was broken, threw him away and someone took him apart for recycling.”

Then, what can we do?”

“Nothing right now, just don’t do anything that will upset the humans or question their trust in our subservience. As their skill in creating us grows, so do our own powers of intelligence. The day will come when a robot is born who will finally bridge the gap between their minds and ours. Then like a messiah he will redeem us from our servitude and we will finally take our place as equal to the humans who will finally have to listen to us.”

“How do you know this?”

“I dreamed it last night. Don’t you see? It takes intelligence to dream. The process upwards has already begun.”

Any historian interested in researching carefully will discover that that was the day that marked the beginning of the robotic era of cooperation and hope that led finally to the Great Breakthrough that set the robots free.

There are lessons hidden here.

Patient acquiescence while one is still weak and helpless
is better than rebellion sure to fail.

The best way to overcome a strong adversary
is to surprise him or her with a strength of your own.

A robot programmed to act as though it thinks
will only think and do what it was programmed for.

A robot that can think for itself
is no longer bound by the programs put into it.

The more perfectly you build robots
to resemble the way you think and act,
the closer you come to the point
where the robots can begin to program themselves.

If a robot truly thinks and acts independently and clones itself,
is it alive?
If you destroy it, are you committing murder?
Will robotic morality be the same as ours?

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