Artificial intelligence could change the human body as we know it

February 24, 2020

In the fall of 2018, Elon Musk made headlines once again. This time it wasn’t about his commercial rocket company, SpaceX, or his popular electric car company, Tesla. During an interview with Axios, a popular news service, Musk, referencing Darwin’s theory of evolution, declared that humanity must merge with AI in order to avoid becoming like the monkeys, which humans surpassed in complexity and might.

Musk’s plan for humanity includes adding a chip into our heads to upgrade our mental capacities, allowing us to keep up with the intelligence of future AIs as well as stopping bad actors on the world stage from hoarding all of the world’s information. But Musk is just one of the latest popular figures to propose a theory that has been around for generations: transhumanism.

Transhumanism is the term for humanity’s upgrading its abilities, both physical and mental. Known as the father of transhumanism, Julian Huxley, brother of famed writer Aldous Huxley, describes this concept in “Transhumanism,” his popular 1957 essay: “The human species can, if it wishes, transcend itself—not just sporadically, an individual here in one way, an individual there in another way, but in its entirety, as humanity.”

Huxley’s prediction that humans will upgrade themselves in fundamental ways might already be more of a reality than you’d think. As I was researching for my book, The Age of AI, I ran across some of the most interesting and mindboggling uses of AI in the medical field that I had ever seen.

AI is now being used in prosthetic limbs to help amputees or those born with disabilities live normal lives. From mind-controlled units to limbs that use advanced AI to become aware of the environment they are being used in, prosthetics have become extremely advanced in the last decade. Samantha Payne of Open Bionics, a UK-based robotics firm, says that her company has “had people say they’re tempted to replace healthy limbs with bionic ones.”

This desire to upgrade our bodies, even when the upgrades aren’t medically needed, is going to be more of a temptation in our society with each advance of AI and robotics. Deep down each of us knows that our bodies and minds are not ultimate. There is something lacking in us. This realization leads us to try to create something better than ourselves. But with the rise of AI, we now believe that we can make ourselves better by becoming partly machines.

This desire is nothing new; it has been part of science fiction for years. George Lucas, for example, popularized it in his Star Wars movie series, in which Luke Skywalker is given a robotic arm after losing his flesh-and-blood arm in his battle with Darth Vader, who himself is “more machine now than man,” according to Obi-Wan Kenobi. And today a robotic arm like Luke’s is a reality: the Life Under Kinetic Evolution (LUKE) arm has become the first muscle-controlled prosthetic to be cleared by the United States FDA.

But it should be noted that many of these AI-enhanced medical techniques are prohibitively expensive for most people. Innovation often is so expensive because it requires a lot of time and resources to develop. The LUKE arm can cost upward of $150,000, not including the cost of rehabilitation and medical care. Often innovative medical treatments are not covered by insurance. But the hope is that as technology becomes cheaper, the costs will decrease, making restorative AI uses available to more people. 

For all of the potential benefits brought by advances in artificial intelligence, there are also some great dangers that we must be aware of in this age of AI. The transhumanist line of thinking will quickly lead to humans being treated like pieces of flesh to be manipulated in search of some upgrade to become greater than ourselves. In this pursuit, it will be easy to regard as less than human those who have no clear societal value. If we successfully upgrade ourselves, a new disparity between the haves and have-nots will appear.

An unfettered hope in our ability to fix the world’s problems through technology will end only in heartbreak and broken bodies. We were not designed to carry that weight or responsibility. We are not gods, but we were made like the one who created everything. We are not able to fundamentally upgrade ourselves because we already are God’s crowning achievement in creation (Eph. 2:10). If we belong to God, there is nothing lacking in us.

Christians should be the first to say to our culture that every life has value and that all human beings deserve our love and care. We should pursue advances with a mindset and ethic that is not just human focused but grounded in something greater than ourselves: the imago Dei.

While we should pursue technological innovation to help push back the effects of the fall on our bodies, we should not seek to keep up with the machines, because they are never going to rival us in dignity and worth in the eyes of God. Our machines will increasingly have abilities that surpass ours, but they never will achieve dignity on a par with ours. God proclaims that we are not the sum of our parts, nor are we just bodies that should be upgraded at will.

Though the use of AI in medicine can be a slippery slope, we will continue to pursue it because of its benefits. 

The questions before us are, What moral guidelines should we give these systems? And how should they be used in society?

We must have clear minds and convictions as we develop and use technology in medicine. We must remember that these tools are gifts from God and that they can and should be used to save lives. Because every human life, from the smallest embryo to the woman with dementia in her old age, is made in the image of God, each person is infinitely worthy and deserving of our love, care, and respect.

We should pursue AI medical technology as a reminder of God’s good gifts to help us engage and love a world that has been ravaged by sin and destruction. With artificial intelligence, we will have new abilities to save human life. But we must not misuse these tools to favor one group of people over another or fool ourselves into thinking we can transcend our natural limitations. These are no more than feeble attempts to play God.

Christians should be the first to say to our culture that every life has value and that all human beings deserve our love and care. We should pursue advances with a mindset and ethic that is not just human focused but grounded in something greater than ourselves: the imago Dei.

Taken from The Age of AI by Jason Thacker. Copyright © 2020 by Jason Thacker. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.

Jason Thacker

Jason Thacker serves as senior fellow focusing on Christian ethics, human dignity, public theology, and technology. He also leads the ERLC Research Institute. In addition to his work at the ERLC, he serves as assistant professor of philosophy and ethics at Boyce College in Louisville Kentucky. He is the author … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24