“What does it mean to be
alive? To think, to feel, to love and to envy? André Alexis explores all of
this and more in the extraordinary Fifteen Dogs, an insightful and
philosophical meditation on the nature of consciousness. It’s a novel filled
with balancing acts: humour juxtaposed with savagery, solitude with the
desperate need to be part of a pack, perceptive prose interspersed with playful
poetry. A wonderful and original piece of writing that challenges the reader to
examine their own existence and recall the age old question, what’s the meaning
of life?”[1]
This quote reminds us that authors and
screenwriters have been writing about consciousness and the essence of life for
a very long time. Fifteen Dogs, by
Andre Alexis, which recently won the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize is a significant
addition to the genre. If you add to this the concept of artificial
intelligence (AI), as a related subject, the list of stories grows even longer.
A few key questions continue to be asked. Would it ever be possible to create
life? How would one know if life had been created? Would it ever be possible to
create consciousness? How would one know if consciousness had been created? Would
it be possible to create an artificial intelligence that was indistinguishable
from a human? If one were able to do this, would it indeed be human? What does
it mean to be human? Is there a need to protect humans from their own
creations?
Ex
Machina
, a 2015 movie, focused on robots that were
designed to be indistinguishable from humans. Even as the Giller Prize judges
ruminate upon the words, “to think, to feel, to love, to envy,” so also do the
writers of this screenplay. Another film, Her
(2013), grappled with the concept of an intelligence that resided in the
hardware of a computer and went on to develop feelings. Eventually the OS being was capable of learning beyond
the capabilities of the ones who had created it and exhibited feelings for
humans and other OS entities. Although a much older discussion, I, Robot, a 1950 collection of
short-stories by famed Sci-Fi writer Isaac Asimov, asked questions about the
safety of creating artificial intelligences and constructed the “Three Laws of
Robotics.”
1.    A robot may not injure a human being or,
through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2.    A robot must obey the orders given it by
human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3.    A robot must protect its own existence
as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.[2]
Nathan,
the brilliant billionaire CEO of Bluebook, in the movie Ex Machina, would have saved himself a lot of trouble if he had
read these principles of robotics and built them into his own version of the
positronic brain.
Arthur
C. Clarke, in his novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, wrote about a renegade computer that managed to outsmart a team of
astronauts on a mission to one of the moons of Jupiter. The novel became a
stunning movie in 1968 under the direction of Stanley Kubrick. The murderous
computer, HAL 9000, considers himself a conscious entity and finds that he is
afraid when he begins to lose his ability to think.
[3]
In
the Genesis creation account, we read that “God created human beings
in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and
female he created them;” and for centuries, theologians and philosophers have
been seeking to understand the nature of this imago dei (image of God). We have much yet to learn, but I am
convinced that the beginning of wisdom is to take seriously this concept. The
more we understand the nature of this image, the greater we will comprehend
what it is that makes us truly human. God is a Creator and we are creators. God
is in relationship and calls us to be in relationship with him and with others.
God is a communicator and we are communicators. God is truth and calls us to
truth. God is love and calls us to be love as well.
Whatever
the final answers regarding the image of God, we need not fear the AI
apocalypse that has been depicted in so many of the stories, movies and
writings in our majority culture. God, who created us from the dust of the earth,
and created the dust before that, is the ultimate creator and sustainer. He is
in control of all life and has set humans to be stewards of His creation. Even
as we struggle to achieve this assignment, and sometimes pursue short-cuts to
cleaning up the messes we have made, the God of the universe watches us and
engages us with gracious concern. May His will be done; for this is what it
means to be alive.


[2]  Asimov,
Isaac (1950). I, Robot.

[3]  see IMDB.com 2001: A Space Odyssey quotes