Cogito ergo I am right!: On the possibility of designing robots without original sin

By Amateur Philosopher, Penny Ham

Controversially defining “original sin” as the ability to have pride, I’d like to ask, from a Christian point of view, aren’t we obligated to make sinless robots? Should we design robots that can pass the Turing test and have no pride?

But, maybe, we’re obligated the exact oppositely. I mean, why be like Christ if you already are? So we might want to design robots with an already fallen nature. Although it might be paradoxical to want to be like Christ if you already are, there is nothing logically inconsistent with doing something that you ought to be doing or being something that you ought to be. I suppose that works good enough. There is another problem though. If we designed robots to be sinless, then would they really have free will?

I think the case can be made that you can design robots that have free will and have no pride. If free will is merely the capacity to satisfy your complex hierarchical structured desires, then I don’t see why we couldn’t program a robot that only desires things non-pridefully. After all, you’d just have to design a complex enough program that could have propositional attitudes – wishes, wants, beliefs, hopes, etc. – but none of those propositional attitudes would desire anything sinful.

It doesn’t seem impossible to design a robot that would never think of anyone lustfully. You could design it where it never self-indulged. You could design a robot where it thought of the concerns of others before it even cared about its own concerns. Obviously, you’d need it to care about itself to some extent but there’s no reason it would need to ever become self-righteous or egotistical by any means. Ultimately, the most important feature of the robot’s free will is that it makes the choices that it wants to make – it would just be making choices that lacked sin (because it would never want anything that was sinful in the first place). Balancing your check book is probably going to be the least sinful thing you could do (except if you thought balancing your check book was more important than saving a drowning person). Suppose the robot was deciding between balancing its check book or doing the dishes. This may be boring but it is definitely an exercise of free will and is pretty damn sinless.

One potential problem with the proposition that robots could have no original sin could be the lack of compatibility with the idea of souls. Someone might say, “robots don’t have souls, and humans do.” In this case, the whole idea of designing robots that have no original sin could be entirely moot. But this criticism seems particularly Catholic! In contrast, Protestants believe in the corporeal existence of souls, or at least they’re supposed to. In Protestantism, you can avoid this whole Cartesian dualism of soul and matter. In Protestantism, when you get resurrected, you corporeally enter heaven. So Protestantism opens up the whole idea that soul and matter are one and the same or at the very least physicalism is compatible with Protestant beliefs.

Probably the biggest critics of this position will ask why would we want to limit a robot’s free will? Why wouldn’t we give it a chance to want sinful things and over time self-correct and make itself better? Wouldn’t we be ultimately limiting the robot’s free will? Probably the best way to respond to this criticism is by talking about the everyday limits of our free will. No one wants to eat their own poop. But isn’t our free will so limited because we don’t have the capacity to want to eat our own poop? I think this is a no-brainer. The answer is no. We are not more limited in our free will because we don’t want to eat poop for breakfast. In some sense we don’t really want to be a glutant or prideful bastards even though in another sense we do. So why not design a robot that could never have any malice or ill-intent? After all, this Christ-like robot might wonder, why we want to morally shit all over each other, so to speak?

Christ-like robots opens up a whole new potential in Christianity never explored before. I know, Nietzsche wouldn’t approve of such robots. I guess we could make robots that were beyond good and evil? Only time will tell. The awesome thing is, the future is full of limitless possibilities of interesting limited kinds of free will.

Did you like this article? Please consider subscribing and telling your friends about it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s