May 29, 2016: Can Super Computers be taught to act morally?

Posted on : May 26th, 2016 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Tuesday I opened the LA Times and saw a picture [of President Obama sitting beneath a bust of Ho Chi Minh]. My jaw dropped and my heart was flooded with sadness and disbelief. I never dreamed in my lifetime I would see a picture of the President of the United States sitting beneath a bust of Ho Chi Minh.

This is how Wikipedia describes Ho Chi Minh: “Hồ Chí Minh was a Vietnamese Communist revolutionary leader who was prime minister (1945–55) and president (1945–69) of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). He was a key figure in the foundation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945, as well as the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the Việt Cộng (NLF or VC) during the Vietnam War.”

This is how the US described him when I was a youth and young adult: The source of all evil, one of the most despised Communist leaders of all time, the man whose ideology must be stopped at all costs or Communism will take over the free world.

The Vietnam War shaped my adolescence and young adulthood. I turned 18 during a time when the United States Government forced conscription for military service. It was called “the draft.” The US had to keep drafting more and more young men (women were not eligible for combat service) because more and more men were coming home in body bags. The Vietnam War became highly divisive and polarized our country. Before the US gave up and retreated from Vietnam, it was probably the most despised war in the history of our country. The number of deaths of those who served in the US military was staggering. All one has to do is visit the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington and you can see the staggering number of young lives that were lost in that war. And just like the wars with Iraq and Afghanistan, they were wars that once we got into them, we couldn’t figure out how to get out.

So, for me to see the President of the United States sitting under a gold plated statue of Ho Chi Minh took my breath away – especially a week before we celebrate Memorial Day (the day of Remembrance of those who died in military service to our country).

Fast forward to today. The same vitriol, hatred, uncertainty and fear that is fostering Islamophobia is exactly the same as was there against the North Vietnamese/Communists just 40-some years ago. The fear, the threats, the “justification for the war” are almost identical. However, one thing has changed. With each successive war, the level of moral hazard has increased dramatically.

In the Vietnam War there was psychological torture and the use of an outrageously dangerous herbicide nicknamed “Agent Orange.” Turns out it was a lethal carcinogen which has caused cancers in so many who were doused with it – the Vietnamese civilians, soldiers and American soldiers. Today we have biological weaponry and inhumane torture techniques. On top of that, we just hope and pray that a “dirty bomb” does not get into the wrong hands.

Even more morally disturbing is the realization that much of our warfare today is being conducted with robots and artificial intelligence. The Obama administration has moved into a whole new area of warfare using computer-driven planes, which we call drones. Right now, drones save American lives. Drones are planes which are flown by remote aviation. According to the LA Times (February 22, 2016), there are now seven nations “Killing by Remote Control.” They are: The United States, Britain, Israel, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq and China. However, right behind drones is the development of robotic soldiers.

Almost a year ago the LA Times reported:

Scientists and tech experts – including Professor Stephen Hawking and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak – warned of a global arms race with weapons using artificial intelligence. In an open letter with hundreds of signatories, the experts argued that if any major military power pushes ahead with the development of autonomous weapons, a global arms race is virtually inevitable, and the endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: Autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs [AK-47 assault rifles and rapid-fire firearms manufactured and widely distributed by a company in Russia] of tomorrow.” The scientists warned that, unlike nuclear weapons, once they are developed, they will require no costly or hard-to-obtain raw materials, making it possible to mass-produce them.

It will only be a matter of time until they appear on the black market and in the hands of terrorists, dictators wishing to better control their populace, warlords wishing to perpetrate ethnic cleansing, etc. the letter said. (Los Angeles Times, July 29, 2015).

At a time in American culture when the receptivity of Christianity is at an all-time low, it seems to me that the moral wisdom of Jesus is mighty relevant and desperately needed. Just read the moral teachings of Jesus from Matthew 5 (see below). Amazing how relevant these teachings are – even today…or I should say, especially for today.

More on Sunday.




~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Matthew 5: 38-48

Jesus teaches about morality

“You’ve heard the commandment, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, offer no resistance whatsoever when you are confronted with violence. When someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer the other. If anyone wants to sue you for your shirt, hand over your coat as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go two miles. Give to those who beg from you. And don’t turn your back on those who want to borrow from you.

“You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor but hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for your persecutors. This will prove that you are children of God. For God makes the sun rise on bad and good alike; God’s rain falls on the just and the unjust.

If you love those who love you, what merit is there in that? Don’t tax collectors do as much? And if you greet only your sisters and brothers, what is so praiseworthy about that? Don’t Gentiles do as much? Therefore be perfect, as your Loving God in heaven is perfect.”

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