“Or will we simply conform to the state of the passionless binary code that drives the machines we build?“
If you’ve been in the spin cycle long enough, you soon recognize that in every generation, there is no shortage of folks who think theirs is the worst yet and will probably be the last.
The end of time is near.
In recent decades there seems to be an increasing drumbeat that the earth is shaking and everything is out of control. So it’s hardly surprising that there is an insatiable market for doomsday books and movies about the end of days or post-apocalyptic survival dramas with post-human variations of zombies and such, reinforcing the mood.
Every generation looks at the chaos of the world around them and some men’s unrelenting inhumanity and evil towards other men. They become convinced the world cannot continue, or at least it can’t continue as currently arranged.
But this has been going on for thousands of years. Even Martin Luther, the great theologian who kick-started the Reformation, was convinced he lived in the darkest days and mused about the world’s end.
In 1528 he wrote darkly, “Things were going toward their end.”
Perhaps some ancient incantation in our DNA calls up in us the rawest instinct for survival so that we are prepared for whatever may come. And that serves to strengthen the perception that all isn’t well.
When I was a young boy, my family lived next door to a very old couple, the Yeager’s. When the heat of the Texas day broke in the summer evening, I would often sit on the porch with Mr. Yeager, and he would enchant my young adventuresome mind with his stories.
He and Mrs. Yeager had married in the Oklahoma Territory before it even became a state in 1907. They came to the high mountain desert of West Texas for a new start in life – in a covered wagon, on dirt trails and roads that connected other dirt trails and roads.
Mr. Yeager had seen his first automobile and then his first airplane when he was already a father of two. When the First World War came, he was too old for service. He’d seen the great crash of 1929 and the next Great War after the “war to end all wars.” He’d seen America’s tremendous industrial and fighting might save the world twice.
But, despite that, Mr. Yeager assured me that the end of the world was close. It was all moving too fast, he allowed. Somehow, we humans would lose control of it. That would be that.
Unsettled by that gloomy prediction, I asked my father what he thought. He agreed with Mr. Yeager.
My father was a child of the Great Depression. He had a fatherless and tough adolescence but managed to learn to fly and went on to became a decorated B-24 pilot in the Pacific, flying 58 combat missions. Later he would be a senior officer controlling nuclear weapons flown from bases in the U.K. for the newly formed Strategic Air Command. Although he died too young flying into Vietnam, he perhaps had just seen too much. Regardless, he always surmised that keeping the world together would prove too daunting for humanity. The end would come soon.
The only thing we know for sure is that there is nothing illogical about believing there will be an end of times. There will be, of course.
The world will die in an instant as the sun around which it orbits goes dark or cools too much, or the earth will be struck by some tremendous natural calamity hurtling towards it from outer space or invading it from microscopic inner space as some thought COVID 19 promised.
Perhaps man himself will finally destroy the world as he figuratively climbs towards the sun, a modern Icarus.
What brings this to mind is the constant hype and promotion of the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution with robotics and the attendant promise of cross-fitting human beings with various computer interactions. Trans-humanism, as the “Great Reset” crowd dubs it, will allow humans to access unlimited knowledge, memory, and utility, overcoming inherent biological limitations.
Humans will be part human, part machine. (Makes one want to root for the Zombies, no?)
The AI revolution and its associated advances have spawned a cottage industry of new doomsday prognosticators, including a surprising number of famous scientists and thinkers who are suggesting – you guessed it – the end may be near. The thinking generally is that at some tipping point, AI will become a self-proliferating intelligence in and of itself, superseding any need for human input and thus determining for itself that humans are an unnecessary host.
In this future, some claim the robotic Rubicon will be crossed, and human life as we understand it will be dispensable. Think Arnold Schwarzenegger here.
In a complementary theory, there will be the rise of the cyborg. Humans will be compelled to save our own utility, to integrate, to breed, if you will, with machines. A USB port in your skull to interface the brain and web, to calculate some specific mathematical problem, or perform some medical procedure in the field? Special eye-wear to allow an automatic screenshot piped into your head with useful information, data, and such. The ideas are endless.
Of course, to some limited degree, this is already happening in the medical field, where there are some startling new advances for recovering sight, sound, and the loss of various motor skills with the aid of computer processors telling nerve endings what to do and when. Also, there are dramatic advances in mapping, identifying, and manipulating DNA that promises to alter specific DNA sequences to correct or enhance physical and mental attributes.
You can’t pick up a copy of any of the top science magazines without seeing at least one major article on AI or some variation of the new era of intelligent machines and the men and women who will become reliant on the cross-interaction of computerized information. And the tech blogs are buzzing 24/7.
I’ve been following this science with great interest, as best a layman can, for some time. There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that this is the brave new world, and not only is it at our doorstep, but it’s also already in the foyer, headed for the living room.
Left to its own devices, this is where the world is headed.
The question now, it seems to me, is only the degree to which we will be changed by this revolution – not whether we’ll be changed. How will it look? What of our humanity, our conscience, and our passions? Will they be silenced or emboldened? Will we be more good than evil? Will we still be free, or will that word no longer have a distinct meaning?
Or will we simply conform to the state of the passionless binary code that drives the machines we build?
Except that no sooner are these questions asked than we’re dragged back to Reality.
As a practicing (and very flawed) Christian, I don’t believe anything is ever left to its own devices. Not really. The more I ponder and think about all of this and AI’s impending impact on humanity, the more convinced I am of the existence of God, and more specifically, the atoning sacrifice, the salvation of the human race, by Jesus Christ.
I cannot believe in a world left to its own and on its own. Logic doesn’t support it. Increasingly science doesn’t support its randomness. The human heart rejects its hopelessness.
I find myself quite by accident in the very good company of many men and women who only later in their lives came to this conclusion that God is not only real but specifically known to us by His Son, and in sovereign control of His creation. And He will not lose control. It’s based on evidence, not wishful thinking, after decades of arm-wrestling the subject to a nub.
In the last century, one of its intellectual giants, C.S. Lewis, like many of his contemporary intellectuals, started out as an atheist, perhaps hardened by his combat experiences in the First World War, followed by yet another World War. In the middle of his years after an intensive investigation of the claims of Christianity, pressed on him by his friends J.R.R. Tolkien and C.K. Chesterton, he writes of simply coming to an instant conclusion that, of course, it’s all true. In his own words, he became the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England.
Many of us know exactly what he meant.
The fingerprints of God are evident all over his creation and dress His greatest creation, us. I see over and over again His blueprint and His truth, and it becomes a bolder pattern the more it is looked at. It is revealed and explained in great detail, with excruciating honesty in His word. And while its human converts are flawed, failed, and often irritating, it doesn’t alter the truth of Him and His creation one molecule’s worth.
I gave up long ago trying to convince people about God or debate or argue about the truth, as I found He doesn’t need any help. I find his followers among the great and the average, the brilliant and the simple, the rich and the poor, and the warrior and the peacemaker.
I find that there are very few who can withstand the introspection of heart that He performs when allowed. An honestly examined life leads to no other conclusion in my experience.
That doesn’t mean any of us really understand how all of this works out in the end. It only means that we can rest assured that the God of the Universe will not be side-tracked. Every knee will bow to Him; even AI will bow to Him, as well cyborgs. So shall we all.
(PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images)