The God Complex

I am currently writing a paper for my Law and Technology class on the legal personality of artificial intelligence.  Though certainly not a new area in science ficition, it is relatively new in terms of the law.  The section I am including below (blissfully not full of legal mumbo-jumbo for you non-lawyer types) is in regards to an issue I’ve been thinking a great deal about.  I’m not sure whether this section will make it into the final draft of my paper.  To be honest, it’s sort of a philosophical debate that may or may not lend insight to the rest of my paper (once I get around to finishing it).  For that reason I thought I would post it here.  Offer it up to you for comments and discussion.

The God Complex

Proponents against human cloning, genetic engineering, and A.I. often describe scientists and theorists who work in these various fields as “playing God.”  This negative description seems to capture a fundamental belief by some members of society that creation and alteration of intelligent beings should be off limits, or limited to God.  Is this true?  What does it mean to be God, or a god?  In the Christian faith, God created man in his image.  Similarly, the character of the Doctor on Star Trek Voyager was a holographic computer program that looked exactly like a human.  Were the Doctors creators, albeit fictional, playing god?  Is it indicative of a god complex to create something in your image, in this case the image being a replica of our species, human?  Japan, currently engaged in the most aggressive robot program today, already includes humanoid robots in various aspects of their society.  For whatever reason, there does seem to be a clear goal of creating robots capable of mimicking humans.  This humanity can be in appearance (two arms, two legs, eyes, a mouth, etc.) or in personality (such as giving a computer program a voice and emotion).

Though not important directly to the legal personality or robots and A.I. it is interesting to consider the motivations for creating technology in the image of humanity and what this might say about us.  What does it mean to be a god?  The Goa’ould, a technologically advanced race depicted on Stargate SG-1, repeatedly stated that they were deserving of the status of god because for all intents and purposes they were.  Their technological superiority often made them impervious to weapons, they lived for thousands of years (again thanks to technology), and were followed and worshiped by millions of people.  They were, in many ways exactly what they said, gods.

Is this ability to play god a problem?  Does the court have a right to step in and declare that there are some things that ought not be created?  Can the courts or legislature limit some forms of technological advancement because it crosses some moral line in the sand reserved only for god– if not god, then simply a crude game of chance?  Cells coming together and choosing each other, for reasons unknown, which produce a result we as humans can wash our hands of.  Do we have the right to go beyond our role of dealing with the consequences of creations in which we had no part, or should we have the right to not only deal with the outcome, but also serve as creational architects?

Contemplation on this issue is crucial to the topic of robot rights because this is an area of the law that is currently being formed.  As we consider and construct the system from which we analyze the legal rights of robots we should also consider whether our role, as humans and creators has changed.  At the same time robots are being granted rights (if only to exist), will our rights be limited in regards to what we can create?  Should they be limited?  What is the difference between a god and a creator?  What does it mean when the created can mimic the creator?  Outdo him?  Most importantly, how will this issue resolve itself in the marble floors, wooden benches, and black robes of our justice system?


3 comments so far

  1. […] that this post is duplicated on Going Boldly as it seemed appropriate for both […]

  2. Daivmon on

    People have been searching for the fountain of youth for countless decades, cloning is a chance for immortality. Were the writers for Star Trek playing G-d? no. Going to a doctor is scary enough, but to go to one that wasn’t human would be scarier. Was it hubris of the creator of the holographic doctor to make it in his image? again no. So many weathly people give money to charities and get their name on a building or start a foundation in the name of a love one that died to give that person immortality.

    In Robin Williams movie The Bicentenial Man the robot Williams played wanted rights just like people had rights. It took two hundred years before the court granted him the right to be called human. If in the future we do create robots with A.I. should they be given rights to own property or will they simply be the property of the owner that bought them. Will we not be creating slaves that nobody will care about the way we treat them since the robots are not human and have no rights granted to them by man/woman or G-d.

  3. Aliman Sears on

    I’m very pleased to have discovered your blog, Emilee! This is great! As a philosopher, a process theologian, a philosopher of science, and a science fiction fan, I feel qualified to comment on your post about the God complex.

    The phrase “God complex” is actually a misnomer. (Please realize this isn’t a judgment against you, Emilee, it’s just a fact about the way the phrase has evolved and is currently used by society in general.) The phrase “God complex” is related, in common language usage, to other ideas such as “messiah complex,” “narcissism,” “hubris,” “megalomania,” “superiority complex,” and others. These ideas have little to do with a more evolved and holistic idea of divinity. In turn, the reason why these terms and phrases have fallen into constellation with each other is based on an outdated or even childish notion of divinity. This notion centers around an idea of God as a super-human who has, e.g., efficient (i.e., “direct”) power to manipulate the immediately surrounding physical environment, and thus creates a human being by physically blowing air into a clay form located in three dimensional space at a given time, and exhibits human emotions such as anger, sadness, joy, and although God is purported to know the future, God gets upset when humans act in certain ways, etc. This is the “classic theological” notion of divinity, as opposed to “process,” “neoclassical,” and other more cogent forms of conceiving God.

    This classical notion of divinity is responsible for much atheism today, and is responsible for theological problems such as “the problem of evil.” (We could discuss why all this is so, which is what Charles Hartshorne and others call “the medieval synthesis” which was a pushing together of ancient Greek notions of divinity with medieval notions, and resulted in an a set of characteristics which are illogical–however going into the details of this is too involved for the moment.)

    The upshot of all this is that in creating robots or creating artificially intelligent structures is infinitely different from the kind of creation that divinity probably engaged in. (I say “probably” because I’m not claiming to know, only speculating about what makes sense.) Any God worthy of worship would operate throughout the fabric of space-time in a ubiquitous manner (through persuasive power as opposed to efficient power) and would create, through a persuasive power exercised over billions of years, the conditions under which the universe would evolve to it’s present state. Whatever we can come along and do, 15 billion years later, with a miniscule amount of efficient causation or power, only amounts to manipulating in tiny ways an extremely small part of a vastly complex, multidimensional universe. The reality of the created universe, as created by God over billions of years, is what the disciplines of science, philosophy, and religion are trying to get a handle on. And no doubt we’ll continue for millennia trying to figure it out. So whatever little “intelligent robots” we can create with our tinkerings are just fine–there’s little to worry about in terms of ethics or morality.

    However, having said all that, it’s also true that humanity must proceed carefully and think about the larger philosophical and moral questions as we evolve ourselves. But the question of whether we SHOULD engage in human cloning, genetic engineering, A.I., etc., is answered quite easily: of course we should. There’s no stopping us, anyway. And those who think we’re “playing God” either have a childish (classical) idea of divinity, or if they have a more advanced theological perspective, they need to see a psychiatrist because their thinking is radically grandiose.

    Finally, in my philosophy classes at the university I use the STNG episode “Measure of a Man” which culminates in Picard’s fairly strong argument about not declaring Data “property” of the state, and giving him the freedom to choose whether or not to undergo a “refit.” It’s an interesting episode, and centers on what philosophers call “personal identity.” It seems to me that any legal perspective must include an exposition of the notion of “personal identity.”

    Best of luck to you, and I’ll put your blog on my list.


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