Artificial Intelligence and God

ai

 

The subject of artificial intelligence is an area of concern and even fear among computer scientists, sociologists and theologians in the last couple of years. Artificial intelligence as self-learning and self-improving software has beaten chess grandmasters and recently human computer gamers in a complex online game named Starcraft II. The AI software was actually learning from both its successes and mistakes. Initially called machine learning, now it has a better name of deep learning. With hard-take off or intelligence explosion computer scientists believe that Artificial General Intelligence (ACI), a software that is on the level of a human mind may be achievable in 5-10 years. After that the software may achieve the level of Artificial Super Intelligent (ASI) is a matter of weeks or days. Then as the ASI continues to improve, it will become ‘god’!

Having been brought up on a steady diet of science fiction books and movies, I am aware of the bad rap ASI has. First, the HAL 9000 in Arthur C. Clarke’s novel 2001 killed of the human astronauts because the ‘human factor’ is the only risk to it fulfilling the completion of its mission, the movie trilogy The Matrix where humans beings were reduced to a source of electricity (batteries), and SKYNET of the Terminator fame who tried to terminate all human lives on earth (no idea why). Second, instead of eliminating humans, the ASI may choose to merge with human and be a benevolent healing factor on earth as is so beautifully shown in the movie Transcendent. Finally, I do not seem to recall any sci-fi stories where the ASI is so frustrated that it left earth and the silly humans behind, which is a likely third option. As you can surmise, much of our thinking AI comes from the fertile and imaginative minds of science fiction and speculations.

When ACI and ACI appear, and it is a matter of time when it does, will it affect our worship of a monotheistic God who created the heavens and the earth? First, God by definition is omniscience, omnipotent, and omnipresent. An ASI, no matter how much it improves on the software and hardware, can never be omniscience, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Second, God by definition exist outside creation (otherwise God would have to create Himself). An ASI will always remain part of creation. Finally, God can create ex hilio, i.e. He can create something out of nothing. An ASI can only create with what materials on hand (if it has hands). It is therefore baseless that an ASI will become God.

What is not baseless is that ASIs will change our existing world beyond recognition within many of our lifetimes. So our call to computer scientists, corporations, institutions and governments is not to stop creating ACIs and ASIs. They will be doing it anyway. Our call is for them to produce safe ACIs and ASIs, with ethical subroutines. Like Data from Star Trek Prime Universe. Or with a modified Isaac Asimov’s first two laws for robots:

(1) No AI will harm a human being

(2) No AI will by action or inaction allow a human being to come to harm

 

 

29 Jan 2019

Quote

5 Ways How Violin Spices Up Medical School for You

violin-in-hsa

 

Blog post from my ex-student who is now a colleague

As a medical student, I was often asked, “How’s medical school?” The easiest and honest answer would be, “Busy.” However, there was one special interest that I invested in medical school which I have no regrets about. After a busy day in the wards, I would take out my violin and immerse in any tune that comes to mind. Violin was the passion I cultivated, my source of joy, something to keep me sane in a demanding course of study. It also made me a better medical student in so many ways I felt it would be a pity not to let you know. So, I’ll like to share 5 Ways How Violin Spices Up Medical School for You.

via 5 Ways How Violin Spices Up Medical School for You

You are one

 

Thomas Merton, in one of his classes for his noviates, was attributed to have said, “in order to have a spiritual life, you first have to have a life’. In one comment, Merton highlighted what is wrong with our spirituality today. Somehow, in the dark corridors of Church traditions, we were taught the sacred-secular dichotomy. Some part of life is spiritual while the bulk of life is ‘secular’. Only a few spiritual elites such as nuns and monks and members of the clergy live the spiritual life. The rest of us who work the earth and brought forth food by the sweat of our brows lived secular or non-spiritual life. This dichotomy fragmented our understanding of spirituality and hangs a false understanding of what Jesus meant to ‘abide in Him’. Merton meant that our spiritual life is to be found in our normal everyday life and not apart from it. It involves working, eating, sleeping, playing as much as praying, studying the Bible and attending church services.

Many of us try to live a spiritual life apart from our normal life. Living this dichotomy is doomed to failure. Trying to divide the body, soul and spirit and dealing with each individually leads to a fragmented, broken, and disconnected life. If we can only understand that Christian spirituality teaches a holistic concept that their spirit, soul and body are one, then we are on our way to integrate our lives as a holistic walk with Christ.

 

14 Jan 2019

Keep Me In Touch With My Dreams

Keep Me In Touch With My Dreams

Ted Loder

Guerillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle

Oh Lord,

in the turbulence

and loneliness

of my living from day to day

and night to night,

keep me in touch with my roots,

so I will remember where I came from

and with whom;

keep me in touch with my feelings,

so I will be more aware of who I really am

and what it costs;

keep me in touch with my mind

so I will know who I am not

and what it means;

and keep me in touch with my dreams,

so I will grow toward where I want to go

and for whom.

 

 

O Lord,

deliver me

from the arrogance of assuming

I know enough to judge others;

deliver me

from the timidity of presuming

I don’t know enough to help others;

deliver me

from the illusion of claiming I have changed enough

when I have only risked little,

that, so liberated,

I will make some of the days to come different.

 

 

O Lord,

I ask not to be delivered

from the tensions that wind me tight,

but I do ask for a sense of direction in which to move once wound,

a sense of humor about my disapointments

a sense of respect for the elegant puzzlement of being human,

and a sense of gladness for your kingdom

which comes in spite of my fretful pulling and tugging.

 

 

O Lord,

nurture in me

the song of a lover,

the vision of a poet,

the questions of a child,

the boldness of a prophet,

the courage of a disciple.

 

O Lord,

it is said you created people

because you love stories.

Be with me as I live out my story.

 

Gene-edited Children Are Here!

 

Gene-edited Children are here: Scientists playing God again?

On 26 November 2018, the world was stunned by the news that gene-edited girls were born in China. This was confirmed two days later by He Jiankui during a gene-editing summit in Hong Kong. There has not been any independent verification that the two gene-edited girls have actually been born so far. The reason given for the gene- editing was to disable a gene called CCR5 and thus make the person immune to HIV.

CRISPR, the technology to edit genes, has been around for a number of years. CRISPR is the abbreviation for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. It enables scientists to edit genes by allowing them to add, delete and ‘cut-and-paste’ the genetic code. It was a major breakthrough. By almost unanimous consensus of most government and scientific communities, gene-editing of human beings has been out of bounds. Until now. The major concern of gene- editing and gene therapy, in general, is that while we know what a specific gene can do, we do not know what the interactions and effect a particular gene can have on the whole genome, what scientists called the ‘off target effects’. Thus modifying a specific gene can have unforeseen circumstances on the person. The other main issue is that gene-editing may not affect all the cells resulting in mosaicism – a condition in which the person has two sets of cells; the normal cell and the gene-edited cells. No one knows how this will affect a human being. What is even more shocking about He’s claim is that he helped to birth two gene-edited girls. This means that the edited genes of these children may be transmitted to their children.

We have been improving and enhancing human beings since we appear on this earth. Through new knowledge in medicine, science and technology, we have been making humans healthier, live longer, able to recover from some diseases while limiting the effect of other diseases, participating in selective breeding through socioeconomic policies, and replacing missing parts with ever sophisticated appendices. We can even change our physical appearance and sexual bodies through surgery. Until recently, we have not touched the human genome. The mapping of the human genome was completed in April 2003. CRISPR, developed in 2009, was already used to edit human gene as part of an experiment in 2015.

Should scientists be allowed to edit the human genome? What is the Christian perspective on this? It must be recognized that this is not a simple issue. There are many people who may benefit from this technology:

  1. There are people suffering from diseases caused by a mutated gene which is either inherited or by mutation. In principle, these people may be cured by gene-editing, either removing, modifying or replacing with a normal gene.
  2. There are people who are well but are at high risk for future disease. Most inherited cases of breast cancer are associated with mutations in two genes: BRCA1 (BReast CAncer gene one) and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer gene two). At present, women with either or both of these genes are advised to undergo a total removal of both breasts because the risk of breast cancer is too high. There are also identifiable genes for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, baldness, Huntington Chorea and others. Would gene-editing be beneficial for them?
  3. Using gene-editing human T cells to kill cancer cells. T-cells are the soldiers of our immune system. If we can gene-edit these T cells to attack the cancer cells in the body, we can effectively cure people who are suffering from cancer.
  4. There are people who want some sort of enhancement to their genetic makeup for various reasons.

The Christian response to gene-editing is often based on the value of the embryo, and the imago dei or the image of God. Genome editing acknowledges the value of the embryo and respect to the imago dei so these arguments are not arguments against it. The Church has slowly assimilated most medical advances into her traditions and theology. The discovery of penicillin to combat infectious disease, the technological improvements of surgery, in-vitro fertilization (IVF) pregnancies, contraception, organ transplants are all examples of gradual acceptance by the Church in spite of initial resistance. Will the Church accepts gene-editing for people in groups (1), (2) and (3) above? Many Christians seem to think so. In the July 26, 2018 Pew Report, 57 percent of highly religious Americans support gene editing as compared to 72 percent of all Americans. (Pew identifies highly religious Americans as those who attend services at least weekly, pray daily, and say that religion is very important in their lives.)

Jeff Hardin, Professor and Chair of the Department of Integrative Biology and Faculty Director of the Biology Core Curriculum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a committed Christian noted,

These considerations lead me to a few suggestions for Christians in their thinking about genome editing. First, in thinking through how we ought to apply technology to the embryo, we should aim to treat the embryo as a patient and an end, a begotten gift, rather than a means, at all stages of development. Secondly, we must balance two realities of our relationship to technology. On the one hand, Christians are called to love, which means we ought to use technology to prevent disease. On the other hand, we should be wary of excessive technological optimism, especially when the use of technology violates important Christian values. Clearly, these considerations are in tension with one another, but we must seek to balance the two truths against one another.

In our consideration of a Christian perspective of genome editing, we may be asking the wrong question. Instead of asking the biology of or the technology of, we should be asking the spirituality of. What does the Bible teach about the advocacy for the poor, the sick, the defenseless, and the disadvantaged? And what does the Bible teach about love. Perhaps then, we are ready to discuss the Christian perspective of gene-editing.

Safespace complete interview on Biotechnology: Are We Playing God?

Biotechnology is both a blessing and a curse to modern man. But, how do we, as Christians, tackle this ethical dilemma? Are we playing God when we use Biotechnologies to manipulate life? In this episode, Alexa Ho sits with Dr Alex Tang to talk about the breakthroughs of biotechnology and how should the church navigate its many ethical challenges that ensue. Listen in to our episode “Biotechnology: Are we playing God?”

Link:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PL65SzbncP3

Marketplace Spirituality

 

Interview on Christian spirituality in the Marketplace with Grace Emilia

Grace: Could you share your daily life routine and busyness as an MD?

Alex: Life as an MD is busy. I practice in a private hospital which is part of a public listed healthcare chain. The hospital has 400 beds and is a tertiary private referral hospital for the southern part of Peninsula Malaysia. I am a paediatrician or child specialist. My working day starts at 7am when I do a ward round; reviewing all my patients in the ward. Then I start my clinic at 8am. If busy, I will work through lunch. My clinic ends at 5pm. Then I will do l another ward round, reviewing the treatment of the patients in the ward. If I am not on call, my workday will end about 7pm. If I am on call, I will have to deal with sick children coming through the Emergency Department and those in the wards until 7am the next day. Then I will continue and start my day. I have clinic six days a week and are on call frequently, also on weekends (Saturday and Sunday)

Grace: How do you integrate Christian spirituality and your work as an MD?

Alex: My first calling is to God and to grow into Christ-likeness. My second calling is to be an MD. I see no dichotomy between the two. I am called to grow to become like the Son through my services to help and treating sick children. I pray a lot in my daily work because I believe healing comes from the Lord. I believe that God will use his human agents, like me, to effect this healing. I am a witness for the Lord to my patients, their parents and family, and to the rest of the world. My workplace becomes my mission field. My witness is that those who come into contact with me see Christ.

Grace: What’s your definition and understanding of Christian spirituality (in connection with question no. 2)?

Alex: Christian spirituality is living out a life glorifying the Father through the work of the Son and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It means that everything I do is Christian spirituality. Everything I do is sacred, not secular, because of Christ in me.

Grace: Why Christian in the marketplace should also learn theology like what you did?

Alex: Theology helps us to know more about God. Our God is a self-revealing God who wants us to know him and love him. It is not enough just to know about him. We must develop a personal relationship with him through the application of theology and Christian living.

Grace: How many books have you written on Christian spirituality, especially in its integration with life in the marketplace?

Alex: All my books deal with Christian spirituality in the marketplace. Only I do not approach it directly but indirectly. Emily Dickerson in a poem wrote, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant…”. What she meant was that sometimes it is easier for people to receive the truth indirectly. My books deal with the integration of Christian living as a medical doctor: Random Musing from a Doctor’s Chair; A Good Day to Die and Live and Let Live deals with euthanasia and biomedical technology from a Christian perspective; Tales from the Monastery, Spiritual Formation on the Run, and Into the Depths of Living Water is all about developing an integrated spiritual life in wherever you find yourself to be-be it marketplace, homemaking, or ministry work.

 

Safespace Interview on Biotechnology: Are We Playing God? Part 3

What should be the core guiding principle to Christians seeking to faithful God’s stewards of his creation and knowledge he has given us, and that includes science? Tune into part three of our conversation with Dr Alex Tang on “Biotechnology: Are we playing God?” to find out.

Link:
https://youtu.be/cV1IbLvrJ4M…

Safespace Interview on Biotechnology: Are We Playing God? Part 2

Changing the genetic blueprint of bacteria for human benefit. Allowed to select the sex of a future child. When we allow this progress to overwrite what formerly only God knows and could do, are we in danger of going down the slippery slope?Tune into part two of our conversation with Dr Alex Tang on “Biotechnology: Are we playing God?” to find out.

Link:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtTRNBiPRes

Reformation Day 2018

standing at the door at Castle Church, Wittenburg where Martin Luther was supposed to have nailed his 95 theses

 

This day celebrates the beginning of the Reformation on 31 October, 1517. It was the day that Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. This is especially significant day for me as I went on a study tour of Reformation Germany earlier this year. As I reflected on what I learnt about the reformation and its implication, I realize that I often need a knock on the head to remind the five solas that is foundational to the Reformation.

 

Sola scriptura (by Scripture alone)

Sola fide (by faith alone)

Sola gratia (by grace alone)

Solus Christus (Christ alone)

Soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone)

 

Sometimes when we are busy in ministry and church work, we often become dissociated from the solas. We began to depend on our own knowledge, skills set, strength, and abilities to achieve and often forget that the work of the Kingdom depends not on human effort but by God alone as the solas remind us. We need to slow down and find ourselves in God in silence. Philippians 2:13 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) notes “For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose”.

We live in a culture that knows little or nothing of a life that listens and waits, a life that attends and adores. What makes things even more difficult, we live in a church that knows even less of this life that makes friend with silence, a life that leaves time and space for the Holy Spirit to breathe into our hourglass lives and form a mature Christ life. The consequences are alarming as our great Christ heritage becomes more superficial by the decade, shallow and trivialized, noisy and gitzy with god-talk

Eugene Peterson

As Kingfisher Catches Fire, p.77

So instead of clinging to our spiritual lives and ministries, and trying to develop or build it out by sheer human effort, let us submit and commit ourselves to Him who has given us everything and all things from Him alone.

 

31 October 2018