Fancy a ‘Necrostar with chocolate person’?


2084: 
Artificial Intelligence and the Future of
Humanity
By John Lennox
Zondervan. 240 pages. £14.99.
ISBN 978 0 310 109 563

John Lennox is a well-known and accomplished Christian apologist and communicator, especially in the realm of science and Christian faith.

In this book he tackles the opportunities and challenges posed by Artificial Intelligence (AI), this term denoting machines – computers, robots – which mimic human intelligence. Clearly such machines have great potential to benefit humankind, for example in medical diagnostics or in providing digital assistants such as Alexa. But there are also great dangers – from the surveillance state (witness the Big Brotherstyle oppression of the Uighurs in China) to driverless cars, or autonomous weapons – raising many ethical, and hence theological, questions.

There is a great deal of hype surrounding the subject, as Lennox brings out well. Are AI devices really intelligent? No, they are not: they merely simulate intelligence. Indeed they are a very long way even from simulating what humans can do. One important restriction, though it is one that AI technologists aim to improve on, is the limitation to one task. An example I came across recently was when an AI system trained to generate the names of heavy-metal bands was asked to generate ice cream flavours: it came up with the ludicrous ‘Necrostar with Chocolate Person’.

One heavily hyped application of AI is human enhancement – the use of technology to augment our minds and bodies. In its most extreme form this project aims at doing away with death. As Lennox rightly points out, eternal life is available only because of the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus, the incarnate Word of God through whom the universe came into being.

Lennox covers the territory well and has many good arguments. Where I would demur somewhat is with regard to his seemingly literal reading of the early chapters of Genesis, and what looks like a ‘God of the gaps’ invocation of special divine intervention to create life and humans (despite his criticism of ‘God of the gaps’). Can life not arise by natural processes if, as Lennox rightly asserts, the universe and the laws which describe the matter within it are designed by God, so that the natural processes themselves are God’s creation? Still, Lennox is surely right that, rather than mimic the Christian story through AI, our only hope is to embrace it.

The Revd Dr Rodney Holder,  Emeritus Course Director of The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, Cambridge.