Swaddle and Shroud - The Life & Death of Jesus, Amy Heyse
Robots are taking over the world. This is what certain filmmakers and businessmen would have you believe. Is it true? Is this possibility a legitimate source of fear?
Artificial intelligence is all around us. It's easy to take it for granted. There are simple ubiquitous forms like Siri and Alexa. There are more extravagant forms like IBM's Watson computer which competed in "Jeopardy!"... and beat some of their strongest former champions! Recently I was getting some tech support from my internet provider via text message. I'm still not sure if it was a real human texting me or just an automated Artificial Intelligence program.
I have a student in one of my advanced high school Computer Science courses, and in his spare time he writes a program that appears to "learn" and refine its own strategy for playing games like checkers and chess. Pretty impressive for a high school student! As a teacher I get overly excited when it comes time to teach my students how they can program a computer to "make a decision." Without this capability, computer programs would either be: (1) a lot less interesting, or (2) a lot more difficult to create.
And if you think about it, it makes sense. What is Artificial Intelligence? Apart from the technical definition, it is an imitation of human intelligence. And while your dog and the dolphins at the aquarium have very sophisticated brains and behaviors that may be described as clever or intelligent, there is still a vast gap (a difference in kind, not a difference in degree) between humans and all other creatures on earth.
There are two things that make humans unique: abstract intellect and deliberate will. The latter is most important for our discussion here. Artificial intelligence is imitating the unique human ability to make free decisions. The good news is this: AI is limited. It is limited, because even programs that appear to be "learning" are following instructions from humans at their origin.
Any strength in Artificial Intelligence comes from the immense power of the human will.
After all, it is the abuse of the human will in the Garden of Eden that brought about the Fall of Man. Likewise, it is the redemption of the human will through the power of the Cross of Christ that brings about the Salvation of Man.
Mary and Eve, Sr. Grace Remington, OCSO
Saint Paul in his Epistle to the Romans, writes, "If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ." (Romans 5:17) When we abuse the gift of free will through sin, we participate again in the Fall of Man. We acutely experience all those effects which we inherited from our first parents.
But there is good news! Pope Saint John Paul II reminds us that before we inherited concupiscence, we inherited the goodness of the human heart as it was "in the beginning." And this inheritance of goodness "is deeper than the sinfulness inherited, deeper than the threefold concupiscence. Christ's words... re-activate that deepest inheritance and give it real power in human life." (TOB 46.6) Read that again! "Christ's words... re-activate that deepest inheritance and give it real power in human life."
Freedom and fulfillment are real possibilities in this life for you and for me with the help of Christ.
It should come as no surprise then that the human heart is the true battlefield between good and evil, between obedience and disobedience. These words do not come from Sacred Scripture, but I received this advice years ago from a very wise man, and it helped me later in life to embrace the truth of the Gospel and live the Christian life:
"The cost of disobedience is much greater than the cost of obedience."
Your will is a sacred gift from God with incredible power. And just as a programmer can turn some arbitrary lines of code into a spectacularly complex display of Artificial Intelligence, how much more so should we be in awe that through the cooperation of our will with the Will of God we can transform the mundane actions of everyday life - even our suffering! - into a true and effective participation in our own salvation and the salvation of the whole human race!
Fr. Walter J. Ciszek, S.J. spent 23 years as a political prisoner in the communist Soviet Union. Many of those years were spent in Siberian prison camps under bleak conditions and inhumane treatment. He said the thought that kept him going through the toughest times was this: "actions otherwise worthless in themselves... could share in Christ's work of meriting grace for all" (from the book, He Leadeth Me, 1973).
Yes, he did serve the people around him as a priest when he could, but so much of the grace of his ministry came from the fact that he embraced every terrible task and painful moment as the will of God for him, and he learned over time to do everything with great care, because he offered it to the glory of God -- even if that action was shoveling coal or moving lumber in frigid Siberia on the brink of despair or exhaustion.
These days I am trying to cooperate with God by caring for and teaching my students as best I can even though our classes are "virtual" and by being present to my friends and family even though we remain separated. Perhaps it pales in comparison to what Fr. Ciszek did, but God has given me this situation. What are the concrete details in your life that you can focus on to cooperate with God's Will?
You and I are not in a communist labor camp. Thanks be to God! But whether you are reading this in the state of quarantine due to a virus pandemic or simply in the malaise of the everyday grind, take courage! God is with you -- Emmanuel. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! Do not fear the powers of this world. Artificial intelligence might alter our experience of the world, but it will not conquer anything of significance.
Jesus Christ has conquered death and given you reason for hope. Every new moment is an opportunity to embrace the Will of God (that is, whatever situation in which you find yourself!) and draw down grace into your life and into the world.
"I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world." (John 16:33, NAB)
We are beyond blessed with an amazing community of teens, young adults, priests, consecrated men and women, and families who are striving to live out Christ's invitation to authentic love and who have gifts to share their journeys through writing.