Well, it happened. A cell phone company now claims that its phone is self-aware. And it’s not even Apple, though you may know that the latest iPhone comes with HAL’s little sister Siri.
According to the Terminator (Terminator II, to be precise), the early 90’s vision of the internet, called Skynet, would become self-aware at 2:14 am, eastern time, on August 29th, 1997. Perhaps that prediction was premature, though in a subtler way the machines are taking over. What was once a luxury (computers, cell phones) we now consider essentials just to get through the day and conduct regular business.
But what would it mean for a machine to become self-aware? To be self-aware means to be able to perform creative reasoning – not just think, but think about oneself – to be conscious of oneself, and able to make decisions that affect one’s own future. I choose, therefore I am. The problem in the world of science fiction is always that if we make the machines too much in our own image, they will become selfish and decide that the best thing for them… is to get rid of us.
Personally, I don’t really believe there will ever be true artificial intelligence. It’s an oxymoron. Intelligence cannot be artificial, because it is one of the ways we are created in the image of God – rationality is creative, and it can’t be pre-programmed. Did you know that it’s impossible for a computer to generate truly random events? It’s true – even computer programs that deal cards are based on an elaborate algorithm designed to approximate randomness, but which could never actually achieve it. Machines will only ever be able to do exactly what humans tell them to. Any decisions they appear to make are only the product of pre-programmed if/then scenarios. Programmers must anticipate the scenario, or the machine cannot deal with it. Every answer you get from Siri was first thought of by a real person.
So I scoff at the commercials that claim a phone (and not even an iPhone) is self-aware. But the saddest thing about this is that there is technology that claims to be self-aware while there are so many people walking around who are not self-aware. Oh sure, they have the capacity to be self-aware, but they just zombie through life, passively letting the days, weeks, months, years… just happen to them, rather than taking responsibility and making decisions about themselves and their future.
I don’t know about you, but I need to periodically stop the hamster wheel, get off, step back, and take stock of me, my life and where I am in the world. Remember that song by Styx: “If I could stand beside myself… would I see me, or maybe someone else?”
I think a lot people have spontaneous experiences of self-awareness. Some of them may be thought of as mountain top experiences, or even conversion experiences. But many people probably miss potential experiences of self-awareness. So it’s good to try to have them on purpose. Go on a church retreat, or take a day off and organize your life, or write in a journal. Invite your friends over for a low-tech party and show them you appreciate them. Write out your goals, hopes and dreams for the future, and figure out the next steps to get you there.
Don’t let that stupid phone claim to be smarter than you. Be self-aware and live intentionally. If you don’t know where to begin, get some help. As I like to say, even the best dentist in the world can’t drill his own teeth. Get a book like Spiritual Blueprint. Whatever it takes, become self-aware.