Let us assume, for the moment, the humanity has the foresight to build in some kind fail-safe that prevents Artificial Intelligences from assuming god-like powers. Let us assume that they remain benevolent, helpfully looking after our practical needs, remembering to record Fringe for us, hoovering the lounge while we’re at church, making sure that we can find our way to that meeting on Monday morning, that kind of thing. The devices we need are already here; all we are missing is the home AI to tie it all together. Bring it on, I say – as I mentioned on Friday, time management is not my strong point, and if I could get my PC to help me out in a few practical ways maybe I would get to writing my next book before Bill Myers does. (No, I’m not gonna let that go any time soon.)
The eternal question for AI-related fiction is: at what point does intelligence become consciousness? And at what point does consciousness constitute life? And how do you differentiate between intelligent life with and without a ‘soul’? If Lieutenant Commander Data had decided, for whatever reason, to go to church one Sunday morning, would he have been welcomed? Would he have been able to believe? What difference would it have made if he did?
An artificial intelligence would, of course, have easy access to pretty much everything written on every religion and crack-pot belief system currently circulating the internet; it would, in theory, be able to analyse all the evidence in a completely logical way and arrive at the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything in, I imagine, a shade under seven and a half million years. Is that what we want? Would it affect our beliefs if that did happen? Would a computer arrive at the ‘correct’ answer, or would a logical thought process preclude the existence of what we know to be an emotional God?
I guess Christian science-fiction has a lot to throw in to this debate, if it wants to. And I think it probably should; I don’t suppose churches need to worry about whether or not to baptise androids just yet, but it would be nice to think that the church will, in some form, survive the technological singularity.