Just when you thought our cultural moment couldn’t get any more outlandish, there comes along a congressional hearing in which several high-profile individuals claim U.S. intelligence is in possession of “non-human biologics,” a euphemism for “alien stuff.”
In a recent YouTube interview, Sean McDowell of Biola University asked philosophers William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland what they think of extraterrestrial life and its implications. Craig, a philosopher and theologian, says it would have no bearing on his belief in God’s existence, but that emotionally it would be remarkably unsettling, and would amount to the greatest discovery in human history.
McDowell turns from aliens and addresses the question of artificial intelligence, which Moreland, who specializes in the philosophy of mind, is happy to respond to. Moreland echoes the sentiments of computer engineer and AI expert Robert J. Marks, noting that AI lacks understanding and cannot be conscious. Due to the technology’s complexity, however, people will be tempted to interact with it as if it were conscious. He also expresses concern over the ways AI will deepen people’s online fantasies, saying,
This [AI] is going to give people a better experience in church, and in worship, and in having sexual fantasies fulfilled than in real life, because they will be able to find out details about exactly what you’re looking for…They can craft a worship service for you that you can watch online that would be better than any service you could possibly go to. And the same with this virtual reality of sexuality. Guys will be staying home. They won’t be dating and getting married. They’re going to be buying these and controlling the women any way they want to…In any increasingly shallow world, these are dangers.
It’s (Not) the Real Thing
Moreland worries that people will increasingly use AI as a replacement for the “real thing,” whether that be embodied worship in a church community, or the intimacy of marriage and the connection of concrete friendship. You might say that the Internet has primed us, and not helpfully, for the incoming virtual reality heralded by AI. However, we were made for flesh and blood community, not for a disembodied, virtual existence. As an old professor of mine told me in an email recently: “Long live visceral proximity!”
For more on aliens, AI, and other pressing moral and ethical issues, check out the full video below.