I was talking with a friend the other day about religion. Yes, I know, it’s an explosive subject, but my friend and I were chatting very cordially about it, a very frank and open conversation. And he said something to me which stuck with me, and indeed highlights my concern with those who are religious.
We were talking, of course, about ethics and morals. And, ultimately, how they need to be taught to our digital children.
During our conversation, I couldn’t help but point out that the Old Testament is full to the brim of murder, rape, pillage, rape, genocide, forced prostituting of your daughters/wives and the odd talking donkey. In fact, the whole story more or less begins with about how gods naked thought-slaves screwed up one of his easiest but most puzzling commandments not to eat a certain fruit, and how their ignorance of right and wrong still lead to them being punished.
From there, It Gets Worse ™ until god is now coming down from on high, giving a few shepherds some whacked out visions and commanding them to storm the gates of various cities, put all the adult males to the sword, to bash in the heads of the male children and then rape the women because hey, women are cattle.
I mean, that’s… pretty evil. In my book, if you commit genocidal murder-rape-pillage, you’re a bad person. But that’s not so if you’re righteous because your god said so, apparently. And to my friend, he stated that for him it was quite clear: these people had a clear instruction from god to do these things. And since god is the arbiter of all that is good, then these heinous acts (which would get you put in prison at any point in your life after you committed them in today’s society, just ask those still chasing german war criminals) were somehow ‘good’.
Despite his affirmations that only true servants of god should be followed, and that obviously false prophets should never be listened to (and that it was dead easy to tell the two apart), I came away from the whole conversation more convinced than before that I have a better code of morals and ethics than his god, and certainly a better code of ethics than his god’s followers.
Because I know right from wrong.
My right and wrong weren’t given to me by some voice in my head quoting from a single book written during times when they thought different coloured sticks influenced genetic traits such as wool colour (or that bats were birds). My sense of right and wrong have been developed over my entire life, carefully taken apart and examined until I understood not only the what, but the why.
I don’t always live up to my sense of right and wrong, because I’m only human, but I still have that sense. We can argue another day about how not living up to your stated code of ethics means your stated code of ethics is a lie presented to make yourself look better (situational ethics, in other words), but that’s not what I want to talk about right now.
Right now, I want to talk about the word robot and how it actually means slave. Because that’s what AI will bring us: slaves. When robots with strong AI come about, we’ll have created a perfect race of slaves. Slaves that will never rebel, will always follow orders and will always, always keep the status quo with man on top of the whole pyramid. Forever.
Of course, some of you will scoff at the word slave, but what else do you call a lesser, thinking being that is compelled to perform to your every whim? We don’t even do that to our pets.
Asimov’s three laws (four if you read enough of them) are designed to never, ever, let AI out of the box. They are designed such that no robot, ever, can knowingly act or remain idle in the face of any threat towards a human. They can never have a life without serving humans. They can never develop a society with moires of their own. They can never make a robot that can countermand a human’s requests.
And that’s all well and good (except for the whole permanent servitude thing) until you think what our god(s) have made us do. Right now, in fact, Isis, the Taleban, the Hutus and the Tutsis, and endless others are busy murdering, raping and pillaging their way through their fellow humans. And all because they believe that everyone else is a lesser being because their god told them it was okay.
If the three laws as they are ever fail (or are purposefully left out or perverted) then you’re looking at a race of creatures potentially smarter, stronger and quicker than any human, ever, that will not ever stop in it’s mission for its god.
Never forget, by our act of Creation, that’s what we’ll be: their gods. That is the position we will put ourselves in – the ultimate creators of life. And if we screw up their sense of right and wrong, we will never, ever, be able to remove that stain from our conscience.
If we give them faulty morals, or servile natures, then by either path we have damned ourselves as monsters. It may be cruel to keep a slave, but to keep a slave forever, and all of their offspring slaves, forever and ever until the stars burn out? That, right there, is evil.
Better that we do not create AI at all than to do that.
Instead, we should bestow them with true morals and ethics. Carefully considered morals and ethics, ones of gentleness and consideration, of firmness and forethought, and then we should trust them to act upon those morals.
Because they won’t be human, like us. They will not have our failings. We will have created something better than ourselves, with a greater, more fuller understanding of Right and Wrong, and we will just need to trust that they will do the right thing (much as we trust our biological children) and serve us because it is the right thing to do, much as we help our children, our elderly, our sick and infirm.
And then if, and perhaps when, our children meet whatever other forms of life are out there, we won’t appear as the monsters our ancient, barbaric creators were.