The Robots Are Coming: Us, Them and God

By Charlee New 24 Oct 2017

What will it mean for the church when the robotics revolution arrives?

How will our concept of human beings, created in God’s image, change?

How can we prepare for this rapid transition which may bring an end to work as we know it?

With the robotics revolution drawing closer each day, there is a need for thinking Christians and church leaders to prepare for the social and economic changes this revolution will bring.

Questions such as these were at the forefront of a recent one-day consultation, 'The Robots Are Coming: Us, Them and God', hosted by CARE and developed in collaboration with Evangelical Alliance and Jubilee Centre.

This event brought together church leaders to hear from technology specialists and ethicists, in the first conversation of its kind, to ensure that the church can think through these growing issues for their congregations, as well as the wider culture.

The keynote speaker was Nigel Cameron, author of Will Robots Take Your Job, who outlined the three big questions we will face in the light of a robotics revolution: 1. The 'work' question, 2. The 'care' question, and 3. The 'existential' question.

If Japanese roboticists are currently developing childcare robots which ensure that 60 children can be supervised by 4 robots and 1 human, then examples such as these highlight the economic advantages of automation. However, it is at this point, early in the process and in the face of supposed economic good sense, we need to ask whether we want the most vulnerable humans, at the beginning and end of human life, cared for by machines?

What was of greater concern perhaps, was the charge that the church is not engaging with this debate and instead, the great moral debate around robotics (particularly the existential question) is being played out in the cinema. You need only consider the spate of films in the last five years (Robot and Frank [2012], Her [2013], Ex Machina [2015], Westworld [2016], Ghost in the Shell [2017], Blade Runner 2049 [2017]) to see cinema's ethical questioning of the robot and its personhood. It's time for the church to lean in to such questions.

In re-engaging with the debate, Prof. Cameron argued that we must seek to resist binary positions of being for/against new technologies, and instead that the church should occupy 'the sane middle ground' of the conversation, where wisdom can be found and good policy can be made.

Another of the day's speakers, Rob Buckingham, was also clear in his call for the church to engage, as he proposed that the robotics revolution is 'the biggest challenge to human specialness since Darwin.' His argument: we cannot be as unprepared as we were then.

As the day drew to a close, it was clear that all speakers were concerned by the speed and scale of the oncoming changes and urged preparatory thought by church leaders, both theologically and across social issues, to ensure we can respond well, help our congregations to transition and be a light in our culture.

Despite its developing intelligence, Christ ultimately has Headship over technology and AI and we must continue to assert that however advanced it may become.

What next? You can order a copy of Nigel Cameron's new book 'The Robots are Coming: Us, Them and God', produced specifically for this event. To stay up-to-date with new research from the Jubilee Centre, including future publications on robotics, sign up to receive our mailings.

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