Article  Human Dignity  Culture  Technology

Artificial intelligence could change the human body as we know it

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.

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