Seventy thousand years ago, humankind had its greatest revolution. The Cognitive Revolution. For the first time, we began to think in terms of imagination, fantasy, metaphor, and symbolism. We no longer just communicated to be careful about the lion near the river. We imagined the lion as a guardian spirit of our village. Today, we take this for granted. Every book, every movie, every play, every TikTok, every Picasso, every Rodin sculpt, every bit of gossip is a result of this revolution. We can make up things, transform realities, and believe they are real. So, imagination is part of what makes us human.
Perhaps we have this Artificial Intelligence (AI) thing all wrong. We fear it could replace us, and I don’t doubt that possibility. I have my concerns. But, as always, we are governed by our fears, not our faith and hope. We think AI will turn upon us because it will be a mirror for our own inner struggles between Light and Dark, between the inner Satan and inner God/Goddess. It is what we would do. O Ye of little faith. Moreover, in our human arrogance and ego, we will assume we are intrinsically better than any other beings. We even do this among ourselves by some believing a race, a nation, an ethnicity, a color, and a sex are better. Consequently, the mirror again, we fear AI will realize it is better than us and try to destroy or take over us. We cannot imagine peaceful coexistence or equality of beingness because we are not very good at it ourselves.
So, how do we handle the day when robots, simulants, and AI are part of our population? Will we enslave them, only to eventually create a rebellion? Or, will we recognize their essential right to be, the right to exist, when they cross the Cognitive Threshold and begin to imagine, feel, hope, and love? What if they develop a conscience? What if they can feel compassion and empathy? What if they can reproduce? When they become sentient? When it is no longer just programming. If they can do those things, might that be the definition of a soul for beings of advanced intelligence? And is the soul thing really such a big deal? Remember that St. Francis, Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains believe all animals have souls. Even Pope John Paul II weighed in and agreed with St. Francis. Among indigenous peoples around the world, this is called animism. The Polynesians called it “mana.” It was the soul consciousness and God life force in all things. Not exactly Christian dogma, but who says Christians always get it right?
This will be quite a challenge for humanity since many are still locked into the idea of White Supremacy in the Western World. How do we make the jump to nonhumans? Will we be threatened by them? Will we be friends with them? Will we fall in love with them? What would Jesus, Buddha, or Muhammad think of them if they understood the technological advances of our time? Would they feel their souls and accept them? There is an old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” I’m not sure it is a curse, but we are for sure in for some interesting times. Welcome to the new world! Fight it or embrace it? That is our dilemma and choice.
Rev. Dr. Tom Norris