Asimov’s Three Laws

This video from Computerphile has an interesting discussion. In it, computer scientist and artificial intelligence (AI) expert Rob Miles discusses how the three laws of robotics aren’t realistic or feasible.

The late Isaac Asimov is a world-renowned science fiction author who created a set of three laws that “robots” (or, AI in general) must abide by to prevent them from taking over the world a la Terminator.

The first law is that AI must act in such a way as to keep humans from harm. The problem from a programming standpoint, according to Miles, is that you have to define “human.”

At this point, the discussion is no longer a properly scientific discussion (which Miles acknowledges in a very roundabout way). It’s certainly sad that there has to be a debate whether an “unborn fetus” (which he calls an “unborn person” seconds later, seemingly by accident) is a human or not. But the discussion is no longer within the realm of science. We’re now in the arena of theology and philosophy.

Something that seems to be so clearly “science”—computers and programming and technology—so quickly veers off into the arenas of metaphysics (what is), ethics (what ought to be), and epistemology (what do you know and how do you know it).

Another comment Miles made struck me as well: “You have to solve ethics [before you can program the first law].” The entire video is dismissive of the three laws as outdated, obsolete, and unuseful, and this reinforces his point. We cannot create something and program it with ethics, because we don’t have all the answers (first of all), and we can’t program intuition. We intuitively know what a “human” is, but we can’t quantify it and program it.

And yet, God can. He did, in fact.

He has given His law to some in verbal form to some (Israel); He has given it to everyone in the testimony of what He has made. The problem is not that we don’t or can’t know metaphysics and ethics. God has given us the answers, both in His word and in His creation. We’re just not smart enough or powerful enough or creative enough to do it ourselves.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the expanse proclaims the work of His hands.
Day after day they pour out speech;
night after night they communicate knowledge.
There is no speech; there are no words;
their voice is not heard.
Their message has gone out to the whole earth,
and their words to the ends of the world (Psalm 19:1-4a CSB).

Psalm 19 declares that though there is no audible or written communication in Creation, what God has made continually declares His glory to us. No one is immune. No one escapes. The message of creation–that there is a God with eternal power and divine nature–reaches to the ends of the whole world, so that people have no excuse (Romans 1:20).

Our problem is not simply that we can’t create robots into people with full-fledged ethics in place (although that’s enough to show us our finitude). Our problem is that our own ethics is corrupt and broken. We are so shot through with sin and corruption that we need to be rescued from the destruction of judgment.

We need to be far more afraid of the Ancient of Days calling the world to judgment by the Man He has appointed—Jesus, whom He raised from the dead—than Terminators and Skynet turning WiFi against us. Our own internal programming is broken; we need to be re-coded—reborn—by the Creator and Savior, Jesus Christ.




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