In Search of Sentience
S far as I can remember, I was eight or nine years old when I was first introduced to the idea of Artificial Intelligence (AI). It was when my parents rented the movie D.A.R.Y.L., a film about a family who discovered their foster child was really a government creation, a boy’s body animated by a chip processor for a brain.
D.A.R.Y.L. stood for Data Analyzing Robot Youth Life-form. Though it was a family friendly film, it introduced the inevitable ethical dilemmas facing AI as it explored that nature of what it means to be alive, what many refer to as “sentience.” Sentience is a part of Artificial General Intelligence, and means something like the ability to feel and live. Though its definition is debated, it is a recurrent term in discussions around the booming business of AI. According to Financier Worldwide Magazine, investments in AI are expected to grow from 640 million in 2016 to 37 billion by 2025.
Recently I was speaking to a group of students and one asked if we are eventually able to create a sentient machine, if God might then give the now living being an immaterial soul. People ask the same question regarding human cloning, whether, if successful, a human clone might receive a soul. These are the kind of questions the Bible doesn’t give a chapter and verse response for, but offers ample evidence for us to suggest the answer would be no—or better—there will never be a scenario where that would be a possibility.
Whether or not God could give a sentient machine or a human clone a soul, is a different question. God can do anything that doesn’t conflict with His character as He has revealed in Scripture. But the unique description of God creating humans in His image should lead us to think it highly unlikely that a machine or a clone would receive similar status.
God is the author of life, and try as some may, no one can take his place. And after God created the first humans He commanded them to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28). God authored sentience and commissioned the first man and woman to procreate, to produce more sentient beings. In other words, God designed the ideal situation for the production of sentient life: the family.
This is where the secular worldview not only falls short in its ambitions, it contradicts itself. While spending billions on attempting to create sentient life, it at the same time allows for and contributes to the termination of millions of sentient beings which it calls fetuses. According to the World Health Organization, on average, between 2010 and 2014, fifty-six million babies were aborted annually.
Even if some see these babies as less than human, should they not at least see them as of greater design and worth than our heretofore limited attempts at artificially engineering life?