How is Trusting Robots Like Trusting God?

Once upon a time (circa AD 2006), I began subscribing to Wired magazine. In case you’re not familiar with it, its target audience is young, urban techy types with money and a humanistic world view.

Since those traits describe the opposite of me, it’s surprising that I enjoyed the magazine. What’s even more unexpected is that I enjoyed it for eight years and only allowed my subscription to expire this month. Moreover, I read 80 to 90% of every issue. I didn’t always share the writer’s perspective, but the content was informative and often intriguing.

file0001474680505Take, for instance, the one in the June issue about trusting robots.

I’m fairly neutral on the topic of artificial intelligence. That is to say, I’m not the sort who can’t wait to have the latest new gizmo, but I’m not afraid of technology taking over the world, either. Robotics are here to stay, and I find that fact more interesting than intimidating.

But did you notice this part of the article? Speaking of the various studies in which researchers found humans reluctant to put their entire faith in artificial intelligence:

In another study, 81 percent of volunteers chose to abandon a program they were told could predict whether camouflaged soldiers were hidden in photographs, even after feedback revealed that they were making far more mistakes than the computer. The reason? In the researchers’ words, nearly a quarter of participants “justified their disuse by stating they did not trust the automated aid as much as they trusted themselves.” In other words, even when confronted with evidence of our own inferiority, we resist a robot’s help.

What struck me here is the parallel between our unwillingness to trust machines even when we ourselves make more mistakes than the computer, and our unwillingness to trust God. Note how the writer puts it: “…even when confronted with evidence of our own inferiority.”

No, I’m not saying computers are like God. Not even a little bit. I’m only pointing out that our reluctance to trust machines and our unwillingness to fully trust God are similar symptoms of the same aspect of human nature.

If there’s a scientific or theological term for that penchant of ours, I don’t know what it is. But I do know that it can serve us in good stead in ways but cause our downfall in others.

I’m not sure it’s advantageous of us to trust artificial intelligence. I suppose in certain applications, it is. But it’s definitely to our advantage to admit we’re inferior to our Creator and trust Him completely — in every application. Our refusal to do so is not illogical, but predictably human (as these studies demonstrate).

 

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