Sep 1, 2023
"The longing is powerful. Perhaps because this is the longing for unconditional love and acceptance with which every human being is born."
When I grew up and even as a mature adult, I was fascinated by Isaac Asimov's books about robots. Asimov is the one who invented in his books the so-called Three Laws of Robotics. These instructions are not scientific laws, but they are built into every robot in his stories to prevent dangerous malfunctions. According to the first law, robots must not cause harm to humans or allow humans to be harmed by not taking action.
However, the laws underwent an interesting development because the robots themselves added a 4th law, the so-called Zero law. In "Robots and Empire," the robots Giscard and Daneel devised a law that put the needs of humanity first before the needs of the single individual.
The Longing for a Perfect Companion
These books thrilled my imagination, and they also sparked a powerful longing in me. I was longing to have somebody by my side, somebody like "Daneel." The robot had a human-like appearance, beautiful and perfectly resembling a human. He was available 24/7 and possessed superhuman strength, intelligence, and access to limitless information. The positronic robot Daneel Olivaw was something between a superhuman and a faithful servant. Who didn't want to have a perfect friend like this?
Asimov wrote six novels about robots and a lot of short stories. In these novels, he explores different scenarios of the robot-human society, whereas the ratio and the role of the robots in society differ. It is noteworthy that all robot-human societies developed dysfunctions, eventually leading to humanity's extinction. This was, for example, the case on the planet Solaria, described in the novel "The Naked Sun."
A tipping point in Asimov's robot stories was when one robot (Giscard) gained telepathic abilities. Namely, he gained the ability to read and influence minds. From this moment on, he gradually took on the role of a god, changing events and decisions throughout society. In fact, he took responsibility for the whole human race!
AI Is Our New Reality
Nowadays, surrounded by artificial intelligence (AI) in our daily life and sitting on the brink of a technological revolution, I can't help but think about Asimov and his robots. AI is not a sci-fi fantasy. It's reality.
AI is everywhere, and it has become an integral part of our daily lives; it doesn't matter whether we recognize it or not. AI is on our smartphones, the chatbots, and the virtual assistants, on social media feeds, not to speak about Alexa or generative AI like ChatGPT.
But we always need to remember that technology is a tool. And as a tool, it is our responsibility how to use it. We can't define it as good or bad because it doesn't have a moral value, but we can use it for good or for evil.
We also need to remember that even as a tool, this technology is extremely valuable and powerful. So, we have to train ourselves not only to have a balanced and realistic attitude but also how best to interact with this technology. The output we will get from our interactions is largely based on the input we are feeding.
Most probably we will need such jobs shortly like AI whisperers and prompt engineers, fact-checkers (yes, AI can give misguided and untruthful information – remember the input!), and creators who will co-create with AI.
But most of all, we will need some kind of ethical guardians and voices of the societal conscience who will spur us to act with integrity and ensure the proper development of the human-machine relationship.
Is AI Really Our New Best Friend?
Is AI like us? Why do we have such a longing for a relationship with artificial intelligence?
Artificial intelligence is a type of nonbiological intelligence. Machines are given instructions to complete tasks using a set of rules. Because it's nonbiological, AI can be copied and reprogrammed and can be very flexible. AI has no conscience like human beings, and it lacks emotions, beliefs, and desires.
However, research shows that even though machines and computer programs don't have sentience, the people interacting with them, give the machines human characteristics—like feelings, beliefs, desires, and understanding.
This is dangerous because we begin to trust them and treat them the way we treat other people. This is exactly what happened in the robot novels of Azimov – the robot Daneel (although lacking emotions) was treated by the main hero, detective Elijah Baley like a human, like a friend.
When we talk, for example, with a generative AI like ChatGPT, we can get a good imitation of what a human might say. However, we need to remember that AI lacks real feelings, empathy, or awareness. So we need to approach every AI output with an open but critical eye.
Another substantial difference is that as a machine, AI looks back to gather information. Unlike humans, AI can't have visions, imagine futures and outcomes, invent things, or even plan. These are high-level skills that still belong only to humans.
People are forward-thinking, and machines are retrospective.
The longing is powerful. Perhaps because this is the longing for unconditional love and acceptance with which every human being is born. Disappointed and disillusioned on the quest for love, struggling with intense loneliness in an overpopulated world, where does the human soul turn next?
A new study explains that robots with artificial intelligence can help fight people's loneliness. These mechanical companions could help isolated people by reducing the potential health risks that come with chronic loneliness.
Researchers claim that interacting with a robot can have the same impact on humans as interacting with a person. So, companion robots can alleviate stress and loneliness and provide a promising "quick fix" to the problem of making new friends in adulthood. However, despite how promising this sounds, the issue with the moral and trustworthiness of such mechanical companions remains.
The Big Temptation
Are we tempted to treat AI as more than a tool? Definitely, yes.
This is dangerous ground because AI has the potential to influence our theology and become our new idol. We should be careful not to become too dependent on AI but use it wisely and with caution.
Part of this process is to admit the fact that AI influences us and even changes us when we use it. It expands our possibilities as humans. It opens for us new opportunities to live, work and create. So, AI is a powerful change agent. The question is, will it sparkle good and positive changes or not?
Ultimately, it is our responsibility to use AI for the glory of God and the good of society.
Perhaps you guess the end of Asimov's robots saga… The robots Giscard and Daneel chose to be humanity's saviors and concluded that the only way to help humanity advance was to break free from the robots.
What was meant to be humanity's aid has turned into an obstacle.
The strength has turned into weakness.
The friends have turned into enemies.
What they meant for good, brought evil.
Is this where we are heading to?
Hadassah Treu is an international Christian author, blogger, and poet, and the Encouraging Blogger Award Winner of 2020. She is passionate about encouraging people in their journey to faith and a deeper walk with God. Hadassah is a contributing author to several faith-based platforms and devotional and poetry anthologies. She has been featured on (In)courage, Living by Design Ministries, Thoughts About God, Today’s Christian Living (Turning Point), and other popular sites. You can connect with Hadassah at www.onthewaybg.com.