Overestimating the contribution of computers, failing to reckon with their spiritual costs, welcoming them deeper and deeper into our lives rather than seeking ways to limit them – these all go hand in hand with over-the-top expectations about the coming of “full” or “fully realized” Artificial Intelligence. I’m convinced there will be a serious backlash against the pervasiveness of screens, and equally convinced that the AI bubble will burst.
Our novelist friend Bruce Buff has an excellent op-ed at Fox News on the bright side of this inevitability (“Artificial Intelligence will lead to the human soul, not destroy it”). He defines “full” AI as “artificial intelligence capable of matching and perhaps exceeding the human mind.” That will remain forever on the horizon for the fundamental reason that the human mind, unlike the human brain, is an immaterial entity, thus unrealizable by a material artifact like a computer.
When that point is finally absorbed, the realization will serve as a welcome reminder about what makes human beings exceptional.
We should be cautious about believing that exceptional achievements in some areas translate to exceptional understanding in others. For too many — including some in the media — the mantra, “question everything,” applies only within certain boundaries. They never question methodological naturalism — the belief that there is nothing that exists outside the material world — which blinds them to other possibilities. Even with what seems like more open-minded thinking, some people seem to suffer from a lack of imagination or will.
He gives the example of atheist philosopher Thomas Nagle:
Nagle believes that consciousness could not have arisen via materialistic evolution yet explicitly limits the implications of that because he doesn’t want God to exist.
Realizing that we have immaterial minds, i.e. genuine souls, is far more important than just speculating on AI’s future. Without immaterial minds, there is no sustainable basis for believing in human exceptionalism. When human life is viewed only through a materialistic lens, it gets valued based on utility. No wonder the young “nones” — young Americans who don’t identify with a religion — think their lives are meaningless and some begin to despair. It is time to understand that evolution is not a strictly material process but one in which the immaterial mind plays a major role in human, and probably all sentient creatures’, adaption and selection.
Deep down, we all know we’re more than biological robots. That’s why almost everyone rebels against materialism’s implications. We don’t act as though we believe everything is ultimately meaningless.
We’re spiritual creatures, here by intent, living in a world where the supernatural is the norm; each and every moment of our lives is our souls in action. Immaterial ideas shape the material world and give it true meaning, not the other way around.
In the end, the greatest threat that humans’ face is a failure to recognize what we really are.
If we’re lucky, what people learn in the pursuit of full AI will lead us to the re-discovery of the human soul, where it comes from, and the important understanding that goes along with that.
The failure of technology to deliver on a widespread expectation, argues Buff, may in the end liberate us from the materialist illusion. Perhaps so. May it be so. Unless resistance to the spiritual understanding of the self is more than a mere intellectual misunderstanding. Read the rest here.
Mr. Buff’s thriller, The Soul of the Matter (reviewed here), is a thoughtful meditation on these subjects (with Discovery Institute as a protagonist) and a genuinely thrilling read. It’s out in paperback now. You’ll enjoy it.
Photo credit: J.M. Eddins Jr., U.S. Air Force/Department of Defense.