Retirement and Immortality

Occasionally a couple of stories appear in the same week that leads to a little lateral thinking. Last week we had a number of stories surrounding the retirement age and its ramifications; we were also treated to the latest pronouncements by Ray Kurzweil, the futurologist-general of the Artificial Intelligence movement. If compulsory retirement at 65 continues and we start to live forever there’ll be someone with a mighty big headache in the Department for Work and Pensions.

It seems that the church is a long way behind on its thinking about where artificial intelligence and nanotechnology may be leading us. Whilst the development of ways to combat disease and a multitude of automated devices are surely to be encouraged, we often dodge the ethical questions. What constitutes disease? As the BioCentre points out the WHO definition allows such conditions as ageing and shyness to be considered in this way.

This should bring us right back to the very beginning, a very good place to start. When God created mankind he didn’t create us as another species comparable with all that went before. No, we have an imprint on us that defines not simply what we can do but who we are. And it is this image that should guide all our ethical discussions of nanobots and cyborgs.

Lest it be thought that this is simply the view of the new Luddites you might like to consider the thoughts of Bill Joy, founder of Sun MicroSystems. Imagining a disturbing future of humanoids, he quotes Ray Kurzweil from his book the Age of Spiritual Machines:

‘These engineered human beings may be happy in such a society, but they will most certainly not be free. They will have been reduced to the status of domestic animal.’

It’s time we woke up to the possibilities. Our human rights are based upon Judeo-Christian values, rooted in the image of God. Let’s engage our church communities with the issues and speak with conviction in the public arena. For like Bill Joy, we have seen what the future could be but believe it’s not what it should be.


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