Monday, January 19, 2015
Artificial Intelligence and the Image of the Beast
Bible prophecies can be very abstruse. Followers have been left jaded, even cynical, by the scores of false predictions surrounding the End Times. Two things are certain. "We know in part and we prophecy in part but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away with." Moreover, the day and hour of the Second Coming has not and will not be revealed. So be on the alert, watchful and vigilant, for the eternally begotten Son of God will arrive just like a thief in the night.
The Book of Revelation speaks of the beast and a second beast that are subordinate to the devil, himself. The beast, called the antichrist in the Epistle of John, will be slain and then come back to life after his fatal wound is healed. He will be joined by a second beast, dubbed the false prophet, who will make men worship the antichrist. The false prophet will tell men to make an image of the antichrist, after which he will give life to that image so that the image speaks and causes those, who will not worship the image, to be killed. A man of intrigue, who gives the breath of life to a graven image, fills readers with astonishment and wonder.
In the 60's, the Star Trek Television Series supercharged our imaginations. The series sequel was called Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It featured a twentieth century probe that was launched from earth and lost in space. Calling itself V’Ger (it had been christened Voyager 6), it amassed so much knowledge that it achieved consciousness. As V’Ger returned to earth to find its creator, it was perceived as a threat and intercepted by the Enterprise...
In 1979, V’Ger was pure science fiction. But in today's world, artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer science fiction. In December, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking told reporters that "the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race."
While we have not yet developed human-level artificial intelligence, recent advances in AI capabilities range from speech recognition and data interpretation to self-driving cars. Experts say researchers should focus on ensuring AI systems are beneficial to mankind rather than just advancing the technology for the sake of advancement. Systems should be tested to verify they don't produce behaviours which could result in undesirable consequences. Security measures should be taken to insure systems can't be manipulated by unauthorized parties. Law and ethics issues should be addressed such as who is liable for the behaviour of self-driving cars and whether AI controlled weapons should be banned.
So the Apostle John’s first century prophecy, describing a false prophet giving the breath of life to a graven image, is no longer a leap of faith:
"And there was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast might even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed. And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand, or on their forehead, and he provides that no one should be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six."