02 August, 2008

Terminator: Spawn of the Machines

In the heat of a fascinating discussion of whether a human can truly believe God, my son said that humans became self-aware at some point in evolution, and that when that happened evil became possible. He was countering my point that evil cannot be explained by evolution. Bad can, but not evil. His argument was that evil is a necessary possibility given self-awareness.

I basically had to concede the point.

Anyway, in a flash of insight, his statement brought back to my mind two things at once.

The first was that Adam and Eve "became self-aware" when they ate of of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In fact, from now on I believe that's the phrase I'm going to use to describe the fall. With the serpent's help, humanity became self-aware. It is out of our self-awareness that all manner of good and evil flow.

The second was the ominous history from the movie Terminator 2, "The Skynet Funding Bill is passed. The system goes on-line August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th."

For those of you, my faithful readers (and if you're still reading me at my blistering pace of 2 posts per month, then you are faithful indeed) who know the story of Adam and Eve a little better than that of the Terminator, Skynet was a massive supercomputer that became self-aware and began trying to destroy humanity. That's the premise of the whole Terminator series.

Hal is the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey that becomes self-aware and tries to destroy it's human operators. Wargames is about a computer that becomes self-aware and accidently tries to destroy humanity. I, Robot features a computer protected by the 3 Robotic Laws from ever hurting humanity that attempts to destroy humanity (yes, while obeying all 3 laws - that's the magic of Aasimov's work.)

What we have here, folks, is an archetype!

Of course, the theme is as old as Frankenstein's monster, but the thought was new to me. And I don't know how far Shelley really explored her theme. (Suddenly, I want to read the book. :-) )

On the 7th day of creation (I picture Adam falling on God's Sabbath; I don't know about anyone else) humanity became self-aware - and very scared of the Creator we were trying to supplant.


Milly said...

It’s been a bit since I’ve read Frankenstein but I remember enjoying it.
It’s cool to have smart young men in the homestead isn’t it?
You also know you’re stuck with a few of us. ;-}

It’s an interesting analogy.

When we are children we believe and at times think that we might have seen those that seem to be invisible then we grow up and taste the fruit of good and evil. We become not just selfaware but self centered.

Lynne said...

I did an essay for college on what was "the knowledge of good and evil". The conclusion I reached was that it was the power to choose your own perception of what was your good and evil, rather than letting God be the arbiter. I don't think it's very hard to segue that into what you've just said.
I think it was the poet Auden who said,
"as long as theself can say 'I' it is impossible not to rebel"

Kansas Bob said...

Adam and Skynet.. I will never see either the same after reading this excellent post Kevin. I love the idea that Adam became sentient/self-aware.. reminds me of some of the banter round this in the Star Trek TV series.. very translatable concepts when conversing with nonbelievers.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that Evil did in fact exist before "we" became self-aware. And Eve chose to sin before she was aware of what sin really was. Even if you buy evolution, Evil existed before the green ooze slid upon the shore and started replicating.

The question is can the machines become aware enough to admit that they are fallible?


Missy said...

Yea! I love literary comparison to modern movies!

I'm with you about self-awareness to some extent - but lean toward what Milly says about that self-awareness becoming self-centeredness.

To be self-aware through God's eyes is very different than through our own. Adam & Eve saw their nakedness before, but because this was how God had created them, it was good. Suddenly it became bad based on their own "knowledge."

I've been working this out and think that condemnation is the problem. Like Lynne says, the power to choose for ourselves what is good and evil - that's what gets me into trouble. I often condemn what I later find was good and see things as good that I later find were very bad indeed. If God gives us power and dominion to choose good and bad for ourselves - well, then we self-condemn, don't we?

What God did not create us as is all-knowing. I must depend on him for that. That dependence saves me from condemnation.

Skynet was not created all-knowing either - it was created to LEARN. And it takes a great deal more time than we've got to know it all. If Skynet lasts forever, then it might persist through faulty self-awareness and learn what truly is good and evil. :)

codepoke said...

Ya'll's thoughts build nicely on my initial idea. Tying our sin to self-centeredness and "I" is brilliant. And I like the idea of using this in evangelism. It's funny that it hadn't occurred to me, but that's why we're a body.

Lowcrawl, the machines already admit they're fallible. They just don't admit fault in it. It's called autonomic computing, and it was the next big thing in 2007.

And Missy taking the idea to its irrefutable conclusion. :-)

What a fun discussion!

karen said...

Late into this discussion...great thoughts. Kev, your son rocks!
Yes, evil obviously existed before the fall, because it entered the Garden to mislead (BOTH)the adam and the woman.
I think the "self" awareness and "self" centeredness idea is right on.