The redemption of artificial intelligence
IMAGE: PHOTO OF C3P0
Are artificial intelligences subjects of redemption in God's plan?
At the recent conference on Transhumanism and the Church at Samford University, pastor Christopher Benek suggested that the traditional Christian concept of human beings as creatures reveals humanity as artificial intelligence: God is true, non-artificial intelligence, who created non-divine (and therefore artificial) intelligences who are subjects of and participants in the divine plan of redemption. This is a strength of the traditional Christian position relative to transhumanism because if God already intends to redeem one kind of artificial intelligence, other kinds of artificial intelligence should not be excluded from the plan of redemption merely by virtue (or vice?) of being artificial.
To what extent is this argument available to Mormons? This depends on one's model of the origin of human souls, which is not univocal in Mormonism. I want to discuss three Mormon models and the availability of Benek's argument for each, then turn to a different, specifically Mormon, approach to the question.
The most widely accepted Mormon model of the origin of human souls is the tripartite model, in which individual humans have not existed as individuals eternally; rather, we were begotten spirits to a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother through a process at least analogous to physical procreation. Our spirit bodies are composed of eternal spirit matter (or intelligence in a collective sense), which does not have personal identity and thus would not be analogous to artificial intelligences in the transhumanist sense. But because the human soul is created by God, the analogy to artificial intelligence may appear to be available for transhumanist purposes.
However, the great weakness here (for these purposes, but a strength for other purposes) is that, as C.S. Lewis puts it, "When you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself... What God begets is God." In other words, because human beings are already natural, and not artificial, intelligence, the analogy breaks down and so Benek's argument is actually unavailable.
The next most common Mormon model of the origin of human souls is simply that individual human beings have existed as persons eternally. In the words of Joseph Smith: "... there is no creation about it." Because there is no creation about it, the analogy of human beings to artificial intelligence fails and Benek's argument appears unavailable.
The third Mormon model of the origin of human souls is quite uncommon. It is essentially an evolutionary model of accretion and emergence. In this model, all matter is intelligent to some degree and the manifestations of intelligence, including the kind of personal identity we experience as human beings as well as the intelligence manifested by gods, depend on the organization and pattern of the intelligent matter. Personal identity emerges. This has much in common with the tripartite model, but does not include a literal procreation of premortal spirit bodies and suggests a more abstract, less robust personal identity prior to physical maturation. In some ways, this is a kind of middle ground between the two models outlined above, in that it includes the development of personal identity from eternally intelligent matter, but retains, at least as a proto-self, the sense that "there is no creation about it".
To the extent that God shapes the development of these intelligences, one could argue that the creation analogy with artificial intelligence holds. In fact, in any of these Mormon models, to the extent that intelligence depends on the material organization of the body and to the extent that God has a hand in this organization, Benek's argument is partially available. However, it certainly seems more weakly applicable in any of these Mormon views than in the traditional Christian view proposed by Benek.
However, there is an alternative approach to the question that is robustly available to Mormons and, I would suggest, to the broader Christian community. This approach is rooted in Catholic theologian Stephen H. Webb's observation that, for Mormons, all matter may be sacralized. What all three Mormon models have in common is that the entire universe is saturated with intelligence, both human and non-human. God's purpose is to make the entire universe sacred by organizing existing matter and spirits, teaching us to care for all of creation, and binding us in covenants of mutual love to participate in the work. In this model, the question of the redeemability of artificial intelligence is an unequivocal yes -- not because God already redeems artificial intelligences in the form of human beings, but because all existence is susceptible to redemption and exaltation. There is no such thing as "artificial" intelligence.