Monsters of our own making?

Since the time that the serpent said to Eve “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” we have been the willing participants in a great deception: 

We thought that we could be like God. 

 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

We ate the forbidden fruit and soon discovered that we weren’t really cut out to be gods in the first place. 

We ruined the paradise of Eden and were cast out from the place where we had once walked harmoniously with our creator in the cool of the afternoon. 

This week, the global Artificial intelligence (AI) safety summit opened at Bletchley Park and began with a declaration that the technology poses a potentially catastrophic risk to humanity. 

One of the summit’s attendees, Elon Musk said it was “not clear we can control such a thing.”

Sure, we thought AI would help humanity; that it would accurately predict the weather and prevent the errant covid modeller, Prof Neil Ferguson from ruining the economy of the nation and the education and mental wellbeing of our children. 

But it didn’t do the things we wanted it to do and now we are in the palm of its virtual hand. 

It was created to make life easier outside the garden but may just end up burying us there. 

Our history is full of cautionary tales:

In literature, Shelley’s Frankenstein: Scientist and alchemist, Victor Frankenstein created a monster from dead body parts and brought it to life. 

The creature killed Victor’s younger brother, William, one Henry Clerval and finally, on Victor’s wedding night, his bride Elizabeth. 

After Victor died the monster was filled with self-loathing and determined to sacrifice itself. 

The last line of the novel says of the creature, “He was soon borne away by the waves, lost in darkness and distance.” 

In Greek mythology, Midas, in whose famed gardens “roses grow of themselves, each bearing sixty blossoms and of surpassing fragrance,” was given one wish by the goddess Dionysus. 

He famously chose that all he touched would turn to gold. 

Once he discovered that this wish meant that he could not smell those wonderful roses, or even eat and drink he began to loathe the precious metal and his foolish prayer. 

The Midas Touch is often cited as a note of praise, forgetting the true meaning of the story: We have a knack of downplaying the negatives of our wayward desires and dreams. 

If you want a real-world example consider the Islamic terror group Al-Queda: born from Afghan anti-soviet efforts in 1980. Conservative Muslims were executed as the regime leaned towards Marxism. The  US funded Mujahideen insurgents and Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan to assist them. 

Bin Laden was even given clearance to steer recruiting in the US and other nations to recruit Mujahideen against the communists.

But eventually, Bin Laden, created from the body parts of Mujahideen and Taliban, became the monster Al-Qaeda, that brought down the twin towers that had once symbolised the economic might and reach of the United States; the pride of a superpower.

Even our efforts to manage the threat of new and emergent viruses led us to believe that it was right to carry out ‘gain of function’ research (splicing viruses from different species together to make them more deadly and transmissible) in a lab in Wuhan and elsewhere, only to find that its escape from that lab is the most likely cause for the covid 19 virus that did not save life but took it. 

Yes, all of these monsters are our own creation – and more besides. 

We must be careful what we wish for. 

We must guard against our prideful nature and recognise our limitations. 

But there is hope for us yet. 

God the Almighty says,

‘If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.’

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