In 2003, I finished my Master’s thesis which was entitled, “Facing a Faceless Society: The Relational Implications of the Technological Age.”
The last time I looked at it was the day I printed and submitted that inch and a half stack of papers as a completed work. To be honest, after that much exhaustive effort, I was kind of done thinking about it. I did, however, resurrect it recently to show my high school daughter, who is a senior, what I was thinking about when everyone was still using flip phones early in the new millennia.
I tell you this account because I have always been interested in technology. But even more importantly, I have always been interested in how technological innovations, for all of their ever-giving efficiencies and delightful benefits, have yielded very real and very powerful unintended consequences for individuals and our relationships.
Don’t tune me out yet! Please keep reading because I am going to tie this to our daily lives in a second.
We live in an era that is technologically unprecedented, and I am not talking about the small, subtle, incremental updates to Google Maps or to your iPhone. We are standing on the precipice of an artificial intelligence Singularity, that will be exponentially more powerful than anything anyone could ever imagine, exponentially more powerful than every human mind combined and with even more pronounced implications for technologies, our relationships, and our lives… for better and worse.
Over the next couple of months, I will begin writing about three specific technologies on the near horizon that will, without a doubt, introduce new, different, and difficult challenges to our values and ethics, and then even greater challenges in how we spend our time, how we parent, how we function in our marriages and relationships, how we relate to others interpersonally and communally, how faith communities guide and shepherd people, how we view reality and the environment, and how we function in a post-truth, manipulated world.
Even more, I am not just interested in the implications and unintended consequences that these technologies have for people, and communities, in general, I am interested in how people of faith fit within these dramatically changing times- how we will view new technologies, how we will discuss those things of value that humanity will begin to lose as a consequence of technology, and how we will teach younger generations the value of real life and real relationships.
I will be focusing specifically on Virtual and Augmented Reality, Reality Manipulation, and Sexual Robotics and Artificial Intelligence.
And these technologies are not coming in the far, distant future. They are almost here… and they are realities we must begin discussing.
Virtual and Augmented Reality
What happens when a virtually created reality or an augmented reality with endless opportunities becomes more appealing and exciting than our reality? What does that mean for parenting? What affect does that have on relationships? What implications does this have for our spiritual lives? What are the consequences for how we view and care for the environment?
What happens when you can’t tell the difference between what is truth or a lie? What happens when audio and video can be manipulated in your voice and your likeness to say things you have never said? What happens when the digital world creates a false reality that the masses can easily be swayed to believe? How do we live in that sort of post-truth world, when the truth can no longer be discerned? What are the effects and implications on how you think? How you respond? Where you put your trust?
Sexual Robotics and Relational AI
What happens when human-like robots are used for companionship and sexual intimacy? What are the positives and negatives? What does this mean for a younger generation growing up with this as a norm? What implications does this have for dating, marriage, sexual expectations, birth rates? How might this be used for those who are widows or lonely? Could this be used to decrease prostitution, human trafficking, STDs? What are the moral, ethical implications for society in general? How ought people of faith view this technology?
That’s where I will begin and we will see what develops. I am looking forward to this conversation over the next couple of months with you.