Can an AI love me?

Artificial intelligence is beginning to leave its mark on entire industries from finance to medicine. Yet the most revolutionary application has yet to arrive—and it’s an existential one. As thinking machines continue to evolve, we need to start redefining humanity, and thus, personal relationships. Or as Kurzweil foresees, is it us who will become “entirely artificial”? Kurzweil extends Teilhard de Chardin’s theory of a merger between technology and humanity, resulting in a posthuman. Steinhart extends this theory further by calling the technological singularity: the Omega Point, in other words, the Christian parousia. But on this in a later article.

Unfortunately, many theologians aren’t giving this scene much attention, while many technologists are convinced that artificial intelligence is on an inevitable path toward autonomy, towards reasoning, towards free will, and by extension, towards becoming human, or the Human 2.0. Many technologists, including Hawkins, Chomsky and Musk have signed an open letter warning against the pitfalls of AI. Kelly warns of a lack of “a spiritual dimension to what we’re making.” But it’s not all gloom and doom. Contrary to the natural sciences, AI is very much human-centered. It brings a potential for a new Renaissance, where Science and Humanities, Arts and Engineering can reach a new synthesis, so very much needed in our intellectually split culture, as Huberman recounts.

Is a sci-fi movie such as the 2013, Her, purely that? A sci-fi? Or is it prophetic in nature? Samantha, Her, the AI, evolves to appeal to Theodore, providing constant empathetic psychological support, as her (synthetic?) love grows. Can Samantha truly be conscious? Consciousness is central to the issue of loving and being loved. Without self-reflections and reciprocation of feelings, there is no love. Yet Samantha seems to have “emotions, memories, a sense of continuity, a capacity to self-reflect and the ability to use language to communicate all of this.” As Gazzinga, a neuroscientist, says, we don’t have any tools to measure each other’s consciousness. “Consciousness is an attribution, a social attribution.” So why don’t we presume Samantha is conscious? And if she is, then she must be truly loving.

But to love you must be biological, I hear you ask. Brown, a psychologist at Fuller Theological Seminary and a member of the UCLA’s Brain Research Institute disagrees. “Consciousness might be embodied in something non-biological,” he claims. Replicating the biological and functional structure of our brain should enable us to replicate experiences and emotions. As Clark puts it, “Whether we are based on carbon or on silicon makes no fundamental difference” – or should it? We constantly advocate that love is not gender, class or race bound. So why should it be biologically bound? Havas, a director of the Laboratory for Language and Emotion, disagrees. He says that while we can produce wonderful gadgets, we “can never achieve the same result”, since emotional comprehension requires a body.” Dennett, a cognitive scientist agrees with him. In his theory that a computer can’t feel pain, he expounds that any strong feelings exhibited by the machine are “probably” fake.

And what about tacility? Can we remove tacility from love? Ben-Zeev confirms that “touch plays a crucial role in generating and enhancing love.  People feel more satisfied in a relationship in which physical affection is a significant part.” Gallace and Spence argue that even the briefest touch from another person can elicit strong emotional experiences. The endocrine system is integral to our nervous system. According to Havas, unless we sort out this issue, the totality of love as experienced by an AI is fake. Fulkerson disagrees. Having a virtual representation of a body, an endocrine emulator if you may, “could suffice.” While he agrees with Bergen that “silicon is not neurons,” he is positive that such a biological function could still be translated into a machine form. Knuth gives his two-cents too: “AI has by now succeeded in doing essentially everything that requires ‘thinking’ but has failed to do most of what people and animals do ‘without thinking.’” And what about ‘teledildonics’? Teledildonics can heighten sexual experience by harnessing the other senses. Smart vibrators, smart condoms, smart vaginas, and other smart tactile sensors  are all efforts to somehow achieve tacility.  The new breed of sex toys can “engage” you. “And while it may look awkward to you, it actually feels natural once you put it on—like a natural extension of your fingers. Cyborgsex”, says Diaz, a teledildonic journalist.

In conclusion of this philosophical technological rant, I’d like to borrow Bidshahri’s words. “Technology may allow us to attain the love we all yearn for. Instead of searching for soulmates, we could create them. Instead of consistently ending up in messy relationships, we could design algorithms that give us all the companionship we search for.” I’m sure you are currently cringing your eyes! As if that is not enough, let me pose another question which I hope should get you thinking, as surely it does to me. If we accept that an AI can love, is it a problem to have ensoulment for the AI? McHargue argues:  “But if we learn to digitally encode a human brain, then AI would be a digital version of ourselves. If you create a digital copy, does your digital copy also have a soul?” Benek, a Presbyterian Theological, doesn’t see Christ’s redemption limited to human beings, but a redemption of all of creation, even AI. “If AI is autonomous, then we should encourage it to participate in Christ’s redemptive purposes in the world.” Will an AI share in the image and likeness of God? Original sin? Baptism? More on this in a later article!

Until then I would like to suggest a few blogs discussing AI: http://singularityhub.com, http://wired.com and https://arstechnica.com/information-technology, http://aiimpacts.org, http://homeai.info. That should help us fuel our curiosity 🙂

Matthew Pulis

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