[This was originally written on November 25 2017 and was updated on Sept 13 2023, to include the graphic, headings and a summary]
There is an inverse relationship between human labour for any activity and the moral and ethical issues related to it. The less we work, because we have automation, for example, often the more we need to exercise moral and other consideration related to that work. As a result automation and AI won't necessarily make people unemployed, they'll simply free us up to do more philosophising.
For people who believe in a benevolent God who seeks to perfect man, this makes eminent sense.
There's an interesting piece about AI and robots in today's London Guardian:
It's a fair piece because it includes opinions along the lines of "we're doomed with robots doing everything" through to the other end of the spectrum where the argument runs that "no previous innovation killed us off and neither will this one".
I am in the latter camp, for what it is worth.
An atheistic concern
An atheist may well believe that an outcome where robots replace us in for every imaginable activity will make us redundant and worthless. And in a world without a benevolent God, that outcome is entirely possible.
The theistic angle
In a more theistic perspective on this issue, I believe that human development so far has been one where we have increasingly had the capability to indulge in exercising freewill, as standards of living and technological capabilities have risen. Going hand in hand with that capability has been the ability to think about our actions and pay more attention to moral judgements. I am using the shorthand of moral judgements to refer to issues related to what is considered to be ethically right or wrong, just and equitable. included in this discussion are issues to do with sustainability and the greater awareness that the decisions we take need to take into account their future costs (e.g. on the environment) as well as current benefits (e.g. to consumers).
An inverse relations between human labour and attendant moral issues
Fewer people now work the land in the agricultural industry, as mechanisation and the use of chemicals have taken over, but there are more people being employed to investigate our impact on that environment, understand its implications and then research remedial action. Employment has not fallen, it has risen, but the tasks we perform are more cerebral and more of them involve making moral judgements.
We can even map this as an inverse relationship, this is illustrative only and there's no specific relationship implied by the curve.
The same process applies to the raising of farm animals and their slaughter. Affecting all of this is the entirely new industry of people making moral judgements about what is (morally) right in agriculture and what is wrong. Some of those judgements are informed by a theistic perspective, and some are not. In the latter instance we may question the validity, for example, of policy-makers in the West focusing on the last few seconds of an animal's life (as is the case in the debate about halal slaughter, as opposed to their accepting what are improvements but still cruel aspects of the husbandry of animals during the much longer period of their lives.
There are similarly eye-brow raising moral considerations such as the most humane form of capital punishment. Nevertheless, the reality is that moral judgements are being made in all aspects of our lives and more and more time and resources are being devoted to them.
For a theist then, I believe the trajectory that we are following is proof of a God who desires to perfect man. He gives us the increasing opportunity to exercise moral judgements, both in terms of the time available to us with which to do this and secondly in terms of the situations to which those analyses can be applied. The latter are becoming ever more complex and challenging.
The pastoral farmer of a few centuries ago obviously had the need to exercise moral judgements and take issues of sustainability into account when making decisions, but my point is that given smaller population sizes prevailing at the time and the more limited technologies available the nature of those judgements was necessarily more simple and straightforward than is the case, for example with the use of genetic modification.
As living standards continue to rise and societies become more complex, we will face an increasing number of situations of increasing complexity which will need moral solutions.
And that is something which robots can never do, they don't have a soul. They are not prone to temptation and nor do they have to deal with it.