If there is one area in which science fiction has failed to quickly become historical fact, it is in the field of artificial intelligence (A.I.). While some continue to prophesy that machine minds that are indistinguishable from human ones are just around the corner, many others in the field have become far more skeptical. All the while, there have been at least a few who have consistently found the whole idea problematic for reasons unrelated to our technical abilities, in particular the implications A.I. seems to have for our understanding of human personhood. For example, in his 1993 book The Self-Aware Universe, Amit Goswami ironically suggested that, if scientists like Alan Turning are correct to predict that we will one day produce genuinely intelligent, personal machines, then a new society will need to be created: “OEHAI, the Organization for the Equality of Human and Artificial Intelligence.” What Goswami intended as a joke seems to be a genuine potential consequence of the development of an authentic artificial intelligence. If we can make machines that think, feel, and/or become self aware, then it will not only be logical but imperative that we ask about their rights as persons. It is this topic that the present chapter will explore. The interaction of artificial minds and human religions is of significant interest in our time, and science fiction provides an opportunity to explore the topic in imaginative and creative ways. Exploring where technology might take us, and how religious traditions might respond, seems more advisable than waiting until developments actually occur, and then scrambling to react, as we are often prone to do. It is better to explore and reflect on these issues before they become pressing contemporary ones.
Religion and Science Fiction (forthcoming from Pickwick Press)