Why Humans Won’t Be the God of Robots

There’s a scene in the film Prometheus where an android asked a human why he would want to meet his maker?  The human replied that he’d like to ask his maker why he made him.  So the android said to the human, “Why did you make me?”  And the human replied, “Because we could.”  And the android then asked, “Will that answer be good enough for you?”

Science fiction has always loved the motif of man being the God of robots and AI machines – but I don’t think that will be true.  Not because artificial intelligence can’t exist, but because of how AI will evolve.

Please read “’A Perfect and Beautiful Machine’: What Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Reveal About Artificial Intelligence” by Daniel C. Dennett at The Atlantic.  No really, take the time to read this essay, if you are at all interested in artificial intelligence because this is an elegant essay about how AI will evolve.  It’s also a unique comparison of Charles Darwin and Alan Turing that observes concepts I’ve never read or thought about before, especially about the nature of evolution.  But for those who won’t take the time to read the article, I’ll summarize.  Darwin’s theory of evolution, according to Dennett, proves that God or an intelligent designer didn’t create life on Earth.  And Turing, with his Turing machine, proves that computers can produce creative output with no intelligent mind at all.  What I get from this is simplicity can produce complexity.

But back to AI and robots.  For a long time we’ve thought we could program our way to artificial intelligence.  That once we learned how intelligence worked we could write a program that allowed machines to be smart and aware like humans.  The belief was if random events in physics, chemistry and biology could produce us, why couldn’t we create life in silicon by our own intelligent design?

The solution to AI has always been elusive.  Time and again we’ve invented machines that could do smart things without being smart.  Machine self-awareness is always just over the horizon.

What Dennett is suggesting, is artificial intelligence won’t come from our intelligent designs, but from programs evolving in the same kind of mindless way that we evolved out of the organic elements of the Earth.  That humans can create the context of AI creation, that humans can be the amino acids, but they can’t be the designers.  The programs that produce AI need a context to evolve on their own.  In other words, we need to invent an ecosystem for computer programs to develop and evolve on their own.  How that will work I have no idea.

This means we’ll never get to code in Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics.  It also suggests that complexity doesn’t come from complexity, but the creative power of non-intelligent design.  There’s a lot to this.

I’m also reading Imagine by Jonah Lehrer and it discusses how creativity often comes from our unconscious mind, and through group interaction.  Often creative ideas burst out in an Ah-Ha! moment after we have digested the facts, chewed them over, worried, given up and then forgot about the problem.  We are not even the God of our own thoughts and creativity.  That intelligent design is the randomness of evolution.


Time and again the Lehrer book talks about creativity coming from process and not an individual expression.  If you combine what Dennett and Lehrer are saying you catch a whiff of spookiness about unconscious forces at play in our minds and life in general.  Conscious thinking become less impressive because it’s only the tip of the iceberg that surfs on the deep waves of the unconscious mind.  Evolution is a blind force of statistics.  Is creativity just another blind force like evolution?

If Dennett is right, our conscious minds will never be powerful enough to conceive of an artificial mind.  And Dennett also says that Charles Darwin by coming up with the theory of evolution indirectly proves that a God couldn’t have created us whole in a divine mind.  If you think about all of this enough, you’ll start seeing this is saying something new.  It’s a new paradigm, like the Copernican revolution.  We’re not the center of the universe, and now conscious thought is not the crown of creation.

[I didn’t write this.  Thousands of books that I’ve read did.]

JWH – 6/28/12

6 thoughts on “Why Humans Won’t Be the God of Robots”

  1. Great analysis of both the Atlantic piece as well as Lehrer’s Imagine. I think that if advanced AI ever does become reality at an advanced level, it (“it” being a robot) won’t regard us as anything more than its’ creator and certainly will perceive us as inferior in intellect (and rightly so in most cases).

    We can see this very thing in humans if you think about it. How many individuals do you know that have thought themselves religious early in life, only to change their position on the existence of God and/or religion as they grow older and/or accumulate knowledge? It’s silly to think that AI beings will be any different.

    Even if we initially create AI beings to “believe” in a Christian God, Allah, or even humans as their gods, as these beings learn and evolve, they will undoubtedly realize the same truths that many humans do over time.

  2. Jason, I’m not sure robots will see us as their creators. We see ourselves evolving out of biological life on Earth. We don’t think of biology as our creator. I think robots might think of themselves as evolving out of human civilization, like we’re a weird technological fungus that grows on the planet. At most they might think we’re distant cousins, like how we feel about chimpanzees.

    1. With one major exception, I think: Androids/AI/robots will KNOW that the seed planted occurred when humans started building “thinking machines” (computers, and even further back) – because their creators (us) will surely let them know, and a scan of actual historical data will make that obvious (unlike our own origin stories). Now, what an evolving artificial (or actual?) intelligence will make of that fact, who knows? They may indeed find us inferior as in all “evil-sentient-robots-seek-world-domination” sci-fi, and become determined to wipe us out – unless, of course, they need us to serve them as human slaves!

      Isaac Asimov believed that robots (AI) had to be programmed to do good, lest they immediately realize their superior strength, logic, etc. In that sense, Asimov believed that robots would – no, SHOULD – view us as their creators, and respect that, or they would have absolutely no “moral compass”. As you undoubtedly recognize, a very similar argument is made for organized faith-based belief systems, i.e. religions, especially in their earliest roles in reining in man’s more base instincts (esp. killing and stealing). But religion did and does not, of course, stop there…

      A real point could be raised regarding AI somehow obtaining a moral compass w/o human assistance – but would it take millenia, as it did with humans – or would they evolve more rapidly? So many things to ponder…

  3. This reminds me of the book of Genesis God made man in his image and nurtured him till man turned his back on God. The body of a man In a spiritual sense is a machine, the breath of God gives the machine life ( if we make robots and we are, they will most definitely resemble this nature of us being their creators. They will be like our first Adam Able to move around and have life after a while. Then just like in the bible we will make another robot from the first or it’ll duplicate itself. Once it gets a taste of the forbidon tree it will rebel then make copies of itself and try to take over the world/ possibly succeed. Then their is another case where some robots remain loyal and try to fight to maintain our humanity but get defeated.). In order to understand where my head is at you must read atleast the first few chapters of genesis and see how we will incorporate the calendar into their system, and the beginning of time for those machines. It’s like that movie 9 the animation meets Eagle Eye the movie. Then once you get further in the bible with Cain you begin to see what I call the first Antlantis/Wizard of Oz ( Nod=land of the wonderer).

    AI. Is a good idea and I too believe science fiction and Christianity mix to make the bible come alive in a way unexpected, but I also believe their is someone mad enough out their to make robots for evil purposes. In my mind someone more stranger and mischievous than Hitler himself which is why we shouldn’t move forward with this idea.
    It kinda sounds like the terminator now, I’m the resistance and would die to try and protect humanity from artificial intelligence machines.

    1. I’m hoping AI machines will want to protect biological life, that they will be enlightened enough to be environmentalists. I assume AI machines will leave Earth to us and travel into space where the environment is more suitable to machines.

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