Will AI ever become ‘alive’?
Warning: This article contains spoilers.
Raised by Wolves is an American dystopian science fiction television show, created by Aaron Guzikowski (Prisoners, The Red Road) and executive produced by Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator). Scott, who directed the first two episodes, has shaped its trajectory with destructive religious conflict, advanced artificial intelligence and many themes ripe for theological conversation.
In the first episode viewers are introduced to Mother and Father, two androids tasked with the duty of bringing 12 embryos to full term in order to save the human race on a new planet, Kepler-22b. Earth has been destroyed by war. The religiously fundamental Mithraic and the humanistic Atheists have rendered the planet uninhabitable with air borne toxins, destructive androids called Necromancers, and environmental carnage.
The Mithraic have created an arc to save a select group of the wealthy, educated and military elite. An ex-Mithraic defector, to the Atheist side, has reprogrammed a Necromancer and a service droid to be Mother and Father, respectively, to the embryos. They are sent on a smaller, faster ship and arrive at the planet first.
The war and the destruction of the planet begs viewers to question the role that religious, or indeed any belief-based, fundamentalism has in war. In human history, no religion has escaped violence. Christians fought Muslims in the Crusades, Shintoists resisted Buddhist expansion into Japan, Hindu and Muslim conflict contributed to the creation of Pakistan, the Arab-Israeli conflict continues to this day between a Jewish nation and Islamic Palestinians. While all of these also had social, economic, geographical and national agendas as well, religion has played a pivotal role in justifying violence of one group of humans against another group of humans. Raised by Wolves takes that concept to another level where the conflict has not only destroyed one planet, but has been transferred to another, despite 13 odd years of not engaging in it. The Mithraic were in hibernation to survive the flight and the androids were programmed to teach the children Atheistic principles, ensuring that prejudice was ingrained. The war continues, just on different soil, once the Mithraic arrive on Kepler-22b.
While the war has caused such destruction, the consequence has been two very different ways of responding to the possible end of humanity. The Mithraic, who have developed androids and artificial intelligence, determine that a current generation of humans must survive. The Atheists, who for the most part seem poorer and less well equipped, actually utilise repurposed and reprogrammed Mithraic androids for the task of raising a new generation of children. This begs the question, who is better placed to raise children? The Mithraic disciples practice isolating children from parents to raise faithful believers. The Atheists use children as suicide bombers. Both indoctrinate their young. Mother and Father are programmed to provide, teach, protect and nurture their small group of children. Mother will do anything to protect her children, which includes the wholesale killing of almost all onboard the newly arrived Mithraic ship to the new planet, after they threaten the one surviving child, Campion. The Mithraic, seem indifferent to the plight of several children, who have been taken by Mother to be Campion’s companions, while prioritising scriptural prophecy and traditions of hierarchy. It would seem that humans, in the show at least, are not always the best placed to raise children. They are full of flaws and prejudices and failures that often harm children. Yet, the androids, despite their programming, can’t quite reach a level of empathy and love that the humans display.
This leads into another question. What does it actually mean to be human? Is it simply being a member of the human race or is there another level of having to be able to demonstrate certain behaviours, competencies or traits? Do these two androids display more humanity than the Mithraic disciples? Author John Swinton, in his book Dementia: Living in the Memories of God, warns about the dangers of requiring certain competencies or intelligences to determine personhood. If a person is determined by how reasonably they can think or how well they can do tasks, then there is the reality of being able to create ‘non-persons’ – those who can’t. People with disabilities, the very young who haven’t learnt, or the elderly who have lost capacity, are in danger of being viewed as ‘non-persons’ and can then be treated as sub-human. Swinton, in contrast, believes that because all humans are creatures made by God, and all are loved by God, there can be no ‘non-persons’. As such, all people, no matter their capacity or intellect, should be treated with compassion, kindness and love.
So, if androids are not human, can their artificial intelligence, or AI, evolve beyond programming? Will they be able to have emotional intelligence? Can they become sentient or even ‘alive’? At this point in time, any type of moral framework is determined by the programmers and so is shaped by the cultural and social norms of those roboticists. These will have inevitable flaws as biases and prejudices are ingrained in any moral programming. Throughout Raised by Wolves viewers witness behaviours from Mother and Father that would seem to go beyond logic-based programming. They bury and mourn the five children that die from illness and accident. They doubt their capacity to care adequately for the children. They are concerned about the children’s future when they inevitably break down. They argue and fight about the best way to prepare and raise them. They sacrifice themselves to protect the children. The moral, ethical, and emotional progression of machines is a question that science fiction authors have long wrestled with, along with contemporary roboticists. Theologians may well have to explore this as technology advances. The answer to this question may have to be left for the future to determine.
Exploring some of these very questions from a scientific, ethical, and moral framework, a companion podcast was developed for release with the first season. The second season is currently filming.
Raised by Wolves is now streaming on Binge and can be purchased or rented through the Apple store.
Dr Katherine Grocott