This past Friday, the title subject for my weekly e-letter was robotics. Coincidentally, this morning I ran across a lengthy article entitled, Love in the Time of Robots. The article is about a Japanese scientist who is working hard to create robots that replicate human beings.
The article is centered on the kind of man the inventor happens to be. In many ways, he seems to be a very sad individual. But the thing that grabbed me was the author’s view of humans in general. When describing human relationships and bonding, he said the following. “As complex as we assume ourselves to be, our bonds with one another are often built on very little.” He went on to explain that, because of the thin ice of emotions upon which we build relationships, many of us wouldn’t notice that our new “friend” was a robot.
“I hope not.”
I’ve never really thought much about this before, but I really hope he’s incorrect. I hope we build our relationships on more than superficial reactions to whatever stimuli seem to exist. Bots (who in most ways might appear to be human) could, indeed, offer the proper stimulus to begin some sort of relationship. The question becomes, would they be able to provide the depth of feeling (or whatever else a relationship needs to flourish) that would actually help to sustain that relationship? My gut reaction is simple–“I hope not.”
After reading this article, I found that there are dozens more on the subject of robotic love. It seems there are myriads of people who are taken with the prospect of human-to-machine bonding. There are a lot of movies that portray such a thing, as well. Remember Johnny Five in Short Circuit? Then, of course, there are the Terminator flicks. Who can forget those?
Loving a Robot
I guess my biggest objections to loving a robot (as opposed to doing the same with a human being) would be the absence of a soul. You can love a human soul without a problem, because that soul can love you back. You can love your pet dog, because that dog can return that love (often with a more unconditional love than your own). They’re going to have to go a long way to create a robot that can do that.
The Apostle Paul once told us, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5) His mindset, of course, was to give himself away for the benefit of all humanity. I’m not sure any of us could ever go that far with an automaton. Still, my lovely Bride always says “Thank you” to our in-house Echo (Alexa). It’s a bit weird to hear her say that to a “thing” rather than a person. Yet, it seems impolite to simply give her an order and leave it at that (notice, I called it a “her”).
I suppose all this will change, however, when the inventors figure out a way to install a soul into these things.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]