“I don’t see Christ’s redemption limited to human beings.” That was my quote a couple of weeks ago in article from a popular global technology site about artificial intelligence and religion. The UK’s Daily Mail followed that article with a feature commentary piece that compared my positive comments on AI to the extremely cautionary remarks of Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk.
A lot of people, particularly Christians, have asked me about that quote since. “Do you really think that you can save robots?” they ask. “Do you really think that you can convert computers to Christianity?” they inquire. My response is usually something like “well… let’s back up a bit first and then I’ll answer your question.”
To begin with, when I talk about artificial intelligence I am not talking about iPhone’s Siri, a Roomba vacuum or one of those toasters that can make perfectly timed toast with a likeness of Jesus on it. When I speak of AI I am talking about an autonomous creature that has self-awareness. I am referring to something that can think, reason, plan, learn, communicate and perceive things. I am talking about a being that can feel love, sadness, compassion, joy, affection and a multitude of emotions. Essentially, I am talking about a more intelligent, albeit it more crudely mechanized (for now), version of humanity.
Which brings me to a theological fact: All Christians believe in artificial intelligence because humans are artificial intelligence (Feel free to insert a late night comedy joke here). If humanity has been created by God then that means God was present first and is the original source of being. We were made later.
The ironic thing about the designation “artificial intelligence” is that we have falsely created terminology that suggests that our creation of autonomous beings is unnatural when nothing could be further from the truth. Technological development and advancement is a natural evolutionary progression for human beings.
Traditional Christian theology supports this scientific belief in its understanding that humans, made in God’s image, are co-creators with God. The term “co-creator” in Christian theology doesn’t mean that we are equal to God, but it refers to the reality that, as God ordered the matter of the universe, so too are humans able to order matter in creative (but usually less impressive) ways.
And so – when it comes to issues of redemption – the Christian Tradition offers a frequently disregarded perspective that contends that Christ’s rescue mission isn’t just for humanity but it is also for all of creation. The world isn’t destroyed and eliminated but transformed and renewed. Disease is conquered. Injustice is overcome. This means that even those beloved family pets that die — they too are ultimately restored and conquer death. That’s Good News.
But what is even better is that, as followers of Jesus, we are invited to help in these redemptive purposes. We are called to help to, little by little, make the world a better place until it is ultimately made perfect — in love, justice, spirituality and beauty through the power of Christ.
So, all that being said, could an AI that is very much like us but exponentially more intelligent participate in Christ’s redemptive purposes in the world? Could AI’s help to make the world a better place. Absolutely. And this is why I don’t see Christ’s redemption as being limited to human beings.