As a science fiction movie fan, I find robots, droids, cyborgs, and artificial intelligence entertaining. I’m weird that way. I grew up watching robots on TV and in movies like “Lost in Space”, “Star Wars”, and “Battlestar Galactica”. In 1984 we were all introduced to “The Terminator” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Terminator was a cybernetic organism or cyborg who had living tissue over a metal endoskeleton. Have I already lost you? Hang in there. My “geek out” won’t last much longer.
On the outside the Terminator looked like a normal human being. That was part of his camouflage. If he was just a scary metal skeleton walking around then people would freak out and run away in horror, right? If you’ve seen Terminators without their “living tissue” or skin, then you understand. Terminators are also programmed with AI or “Artificial Intelligence, so they can learn and adapt to their environment.
Okay, here is a quick summary of the movies and yes there is a point behind this illustration. In the movies, “Terminators” are assassins sent back in time by “Skynet”, a fictional artificial neural network-based conscious group mind and artificial general superintelligence system that serves as the antagonistic force against humans. You might want to read that again. “Skynet” was originally created by humans as AI or artificial intelligence to protect against threats like computer viruses and foreign military attacks, but at some point “Skynet” becomes “self-aware”. Once it becomes self-aware Skynet determines that human beings are the primary threat, and that they need to be eliminated. This is where the “Terminators” come in. Somehow Skynet produces an army of machines that annihilate most of the human race, but there is a man, John Connor, who leads a resistance movement that eventually wins the war with the machines. So, in order to change the outcome of the war Skynet sends Terminators back in time to kill John Connor’s mother Sarah.
To date there have been 6 Terminator movies. The last was released in 2019. In each movie there is a new plan to eliminate either John Connor or his mother, and each time Skynet sends a new, improved, and more powerful Terminator that is harder to kill than the one before it.
The interesting part of the movie is the taming or as they would call it the reprogramming of one Terminator in particular, the one played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. After he is reprogrammed, he becomes a protector, role model, and father figure. He’s a “good terminator”. Isn’t that sweet? And, because he is “AI” he can learn new stuff. However, he’s still a computer and doesn’t have much personality, so a big part of story line and humor in the movies revolves around teaching him to be more human and a more endearing character.
While this Terminator or machine can learn how to “blend in” to a certain degree and even appear to care about the people that he’s protecting, he’s still a machine that has been programmed. He’s a very powerful machine, but he’s not human. He can’t feel emotion. He doesn’t laugh or cry. In one of the scenes, the terminator asks the young John Connor “why do you (humans) cry?” John explains that humans cry when they are sad, but the Terminator or machine can’t understand that, shed tears, or be sad. He can’t feel love, joy, compassion, pity, remorse, anger, etc. He does what he’s told or is programmed to do.
The one big thing that the movie doesn’t really explain is how Skynet became “self-aware”. When did they stop being machines that we’re programmed to perform certain tasks to living entities with the ability to reason making ethical and moral decisions for themselves if that is the case. Again, they don’t really explain that because they can’t scientifically. Machines can’t become “self aware”. They don’t have a soul or spirit within them. Their creators were limited. We can put a ton of information into a machine giving it the ability to make calculations or other problem-solving operations like our present-day algorithms, but again those machines or algorithms cannot evolve beyond their programming to the point where they can make decisions just like a human being. Human beings have special ingredients that cannot be recreated or copied perfectly. We were created in the image of God by God. He is the only one who can create perfectly, flawlessly, and without error.
“So, God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27 NIV
I’m no scientist so this is a simple analogy, but “artificial intelligence” will never match the capabilities of the human brain and nervous system. Our state of consciousness can never be duplicated by man. Only God can make something so detailed. We’re smart and will continue to advance intellectually and technologically, but there will always be limits to what we can achieve. Only God is unlimited and omnipotent. The best of what we can create will always be a cheap imitation and pale in comparison to what God can do. At best anything that we can come up with will always be an “artificial” representation of the “real” thing. Artificial is defined as “made or produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally, especially as a copy of something natural”. God created everything that occurs naturally. He created the natural and organic from nothing. He spoke and things appeared. He took dirt that he created and formed us, then He breathed life into us.
“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7 NIV
As a creative and imaginative person, I can understand the excitement surrounding Artificial Intelligence, but I can also understand the fear and caution that comes with it. Will “AI” be the final instrument of our own destruction? Will it turn on us and send terminators to destroy us? Okay, I’m not freaking out. That’s not where I’m going with this, but there are always pros and cons to everything we do. The point is that “AI” will never be able to replace what God has created. We can make some pretty cool stuff from the materials and elements that God has already created, but “only God can make a tree”. (Taken from “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer) Only God can breathe life. Only God can make a soul, spirit, imagination, dreams, thoughts, love, compassion, empathy, sympathy, and on and on and on.
“21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.” Romans 1:21-23 NIV
Instead of “their thinking became futile”, the King James Version of this passage says, “vain in their imaginations”. The Greek word for “futile” or “vain”in this passage is ματαιόω (mataioó). It means foolish or perverted. Our English definition of “having or showing an excessively high opinion of one’s appearance, abilities, or worth” also includes “producing no result or useless”.
There is a growing belief, assumption, imagining, or “self-awareness” in our current culture that we are gods. We are and know better than any god(s), and yet much of what we produce or create is futile and in vain. Don’t get me wrong. Remember, we are God’s masterpiece possessing great worth, ability, and potential. Human beings have done some wonderful things, but we are our own worst enemies. Our vain imaginations or futile thinking after all is what gets us into trouble. At best we can only exchange or trade the glory of the immortal God with images, replicas, copies, or artificial things made to look like things that God has already created.
“Well, that was all rather dismal and depressing Robby.”
I know. I hear you, but with all the vain futility that we see going on around us masquerading as intelligence it is encouraging to know that there is a glorious, immortal, omnipotent, and loving God who’s always there to save and protect us, even from ourselves.
Have a great weekend! Love y’all!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC