Merging Human with Machine?

August 18, 2014

In the wee hours on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we were all sleeping soundly. At 3:45 AM, my husband’s phone sounded the text alarm. He shushed it. Within seconds, my cell phone gave off its incoming text signal. Then we heard one of our sons attend to his phone upstairs. Another son awakened about that time, not sure what had happened. Had someone in the family died? Was there a weather emergency? Had some catastrophe occurred? No, no, and no. Our cellular phone company was alerting us that our data usage was 75 percent complete, and we have a few more days left in the month. For an additional sum, however, we could add more data usage to our plan. Artificial intelligence strikes again.

This morning, I might have been at least temporarily pleased to merge my particular machine with the great outdoors. Others, though, are not so inclined. A number of philosophers, bioethicists, and other thinkers have been talking for a while about the merging of man with machine. Indeed, a number of luminaries are quite enthusiastic about the project of a human/machine interface.

Dmitry Itskov became a multimillionaire through his web publishing company, New Media Stars. In February 2011, he founded the 2045 Strategic Social Initiative, and is president of the Global Future 2045 Congress. Itskov wrote to the Forbes list of billionaires in the summer of 2012, to encourage them to embrace his vision: “Such research has the potential to free you, as well as the majority of all people on our planet, from disease, old age and even death.”

What exactly do the principals involved with the 2045 Initiative intend? Their website lists the main goals of the 2045 Initiative: the creation and realization of a new strategy for the development of humanity which meets global civilization challenges; the creation of optimal conditions promoting the spiritual enlightenment of humanity; and the realization of a new futuristic reality based on 5 principles: high spirituality, high culture, high ethics, high science and high technologies. Specifically, they intend “to create technologies enabling the transfer of a individual’s personality to a more advanced non-biological carrier, and extending life, including to the point of immortality.”

Here is no new desire. It is as old as the Garden, and yet as fresh as each New Year. Who doesn’t want to live forever? The question is usually, under whose terms? We tend to like ourselves, and prefer our tastes to those of others. We typically do not really care for unsolicited advice, and certainly do not wish for someone else to tell us what to do. We cloak ourselves in autonomy (“self-law”), and prefer a cafeteria plan, where we can pick and choose what we wish in our lives. Can we really choose our future—our immortal future?

Itskov and the Global Future 2045 principals seem to think so. They sent an open letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in March 2013, outlining humankind’s current difficulties as they see them, as well as proposed solutions:

1. The construction of anthropomorphic avatar robots—artificial bodies.

2. The creation of telepresence robotic systems for long-distance control of an avatar.

3. The development of brain-computer interfaces for direct mental control  of an avatar.
—rehabilitation of the disabled;
—replacement of people working in hazardous conditions, or those tasked with cleaning up during peacekeeping missions, etc.;
—telepresence technologies for personal and business communications, as well as tourism.

The successful further development of the above three studies is expected to lead to further breakthroughs, including:

4. Development of life-extension technologies involving life-support systems for the human brain integrated with an artificial Avatar body.

(Note: Per the Global Trends 2030 forecast of the US National Intelligence Council, using replacement limb technology advances, people may choose to enhance their physical selves as they do with cosmetic surgery today.)
Application: the significant extension of the lives of individuals whose biological bodies have exhausted their resources.

5. A study of the main principles of the functioning of the human brain, and the creation of a functional model.

6. Development of prostheses for parts of the human brain.

7. Creation of a fully artificial equivalent of the human brain.

8. A study of human consciousness and the possibilities for its future embodiment in a non-biological substrate.
—treatment of degenerative diseases and traumas of the brain;
—exploration of regions of outer space hostile to biological human life;
—radical extension of human life to the point of immortality.

Why did Itskov and company write to the UN? It is because they believe that the UN will soon be advising the various nations regarding ways to “realize the strategy for the transition to neo-humanity.”

This sounds less like choosing our own future, and more like a consortium of governments buying into the goals of a self-selected group. While there are some important possible applications for portions of the work, the overall goal seems the vision of a few for a utopia for the masses—usually a recipe for disaster. After all, to save humanity, we are being told that we need to fundamentally alter it. Saving humanity by becoming less human is flawed thinking.

In his Fabricated Man: The Ethics of Genetic Control, Paul Ramsey described actions of “man’s radical self-modification and control of his evolutionary future.” He had another name for such: “a project for the suicide of the species,” and discerned its momentum as “despair over man as he is.” (159)

Man as he is—male and female bodies, minds, wills, and emotions. The Book of Genesis reveals humans as the crown of creation. Nigel M. de S. Cameron, president of the Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies, wrote tellingly of our nature when he wrote

To be human is to be made in the image of God, and there is nothing higher to which we can aspire. For to be made in the image of God is to be made as much like God as someone who is not God could ever be. This amazing dignity, which attaches to human nature wherever it is found, is finally proved to us in Jesus Christ, since in the incarnation God took to himself the mode of existence which is also ours. And having once taken it to himself, he has not laid it down. Then and today and for all eternity, human existence is dignified by the astonishing fact that the God who created it has made it his own. (Complete in Christ, 113)

Is the 2045 Initiative offering humankind a new genesis? Perhaps. One photo of Itskov shows him confronting an anthropomorphic avatar. Astonishingly (or not), the avatar looks very like Mr. Itskov. Another photo shows the founder of Hanson Robotics, David Hanson, with his robotic model of Dimitry Itskov’s head. To reproduce Mr. Itskov’s voice and facial expressions, Hanson will need to use 36 motors.

Genesis 1 and 2 were aptly juxtaposed by Paul Ramsey. He wrote

In the first genesis, men with expectation high savored knowledge and God-head, death following. In the second genesis men with expectation high savor death to the species, of man as he is, God-head following. (160)

2045 may seem far in the future, but we need to spend some time thinking, talking, and, hopefully, modifying these ideas and goals while we have it—time, that is.


Cameron, Nigel M. de S. Complete in Christ: Rediscovering Jesus and Ourselves. London: Paternoster Press, 1989, 1997.

Ramsey, Paul. Fabricated Man: The Ethics of Genetic Control. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1970.

Note:  Portions of this article have been previously published in electronic newsletter form by D. Joy Riley of The Tennessee Center for Bioethics & Culture; used by permission.

Joy Riley

Dr. Joy Riley is executive director of The Tennessee Center for Bioethics & Culture and serves on the ethics committee of a Nashville-area hospital. Board-certified in internal medicine, her writing and lecture topics include medical ethics, organ transplantation ethics, stem cell research, genetics, end-of-life issues, and assisted reproductive technologies. With … 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