The Future Robot Mission to Wyoming

With the end of Battlestar Galactica fresh on our minds, it’s a good time to reassess the place of robots in Mormonism. In part, this post came about though my perusal of the academic journal Nanoethics where we find such great articles as The Opposite of Human Enhancement: Nanotechnology and the Blind Chicken Problem which you’ve probably read already, but in case you haven’t, check it out. As I thumbed through this journal, I realized that if it is not too early to think about the ethical use of nanites, maybe it’s not too early to start thinking about the theological problems posed by future cyber personalities. Of course, people have thought about robot ethics for a long time, and it is standard fare in Science Fiction. Indeed, South Korea has started to draw up guidelines for the ethical treatment of robots. But as far as I know there has not really been much consideration of how robots fit into our theology (well there is my Sunday School lesson). Proof that it is time to think about robots in the Church comes from the attention paid to cyborgs in Church magazines. The New Era has an article called Me, Myself, and Iris about one of our youth building a robot. So these issues are at least on the minds of the folks at the New Era a good indication that our explorations are appropriate.

Fairly realistic looking robots are just around the corner. Look at this one from Japan. As I say, let’s try a thought experiment to unpack some of the complexity on the place of robots in our theology.

This is a serious question. Suppose that advances in artificial cognitive functioning proceed forward to the point that we have something that really, really looks like a sentient being. In fact, suppose the following happens, say 200 years from now:

The set up.

Humans have discovered a substance called postronium that acts functionally much like neurons in human brains, i.e., they form multiple connections, allow the construction of neural nets, can establish new connections or break old ones, etc. A wad of postronium can form a neural net equal or greater in complexity than that found in the human brain. We have created a race of very human-like robots using this substance and they appear to all intents and purposes to have self-awareness, intelligence, and emotions. At this point in their future history, say, we have fought a war, come to peace accords, and we have given them Wyoming, excluding greater Yellowstone. Let’s say also that they are clearly not humans, we don’t understand them completely, and in their otherness they have very different ways of viewing the world. I don’t want to go into details but if you had a conversation with them you would not mistake them for humans. Further, they are engendered creatures, with two genders, one of which will bear much of the cost of reproduction in their re-creation centers so are more choosy in mate choice, more innately nurturing, and more interested in raising young robots. The other less inclined hang out with young robots, take pleasure in sorting themselves into status hierarchies, and more robotically aggressive. The engendered robots form pair bonds for life. There is inheritable variation in each comparable to that found in humans–meaning they can now evolve. They feel pain and listen to music (none of it human).

Now suppose, that they claim to believe in God and talk about their relationship with him (Sort of like cylons on BSG) but because of their otherness, it is theologically incommunicable to us in its completeness, but, we do recognize some of their Faith talk (They have a beetle in box they can’t describe to us as it were). Anthropologists have allowed us some access to their thought, but it’s incomplete, and seems strange.

Now, of course, we have no way to know if they are really conscious. We can’t even tell if our neighbors are conscious (you know the old solipsism problem, “How do I know I’m not the only person who is real!?”). And they are machines.

They seem to claim the following:

A. They are decedents of Adam through us.
B. They have a spirit that is an offspring of God.
C. They are part of a Fallen world in need of redemption.
D. They are more advanced than humans.

Now, a few upon reading the Book of Mormon believe it is true and want to start a Ward in Wyoming. Should we baptize them and extend to them the blessings of the Gospel? What conditions would they have to meet in order to be baptized? If you think they should not be, state why and what would change your mind if anything. I’ve tried to set this up so at least on the surface they seem to be candidates for meeting all the criteria for joining the church except for their non-humanness, for example, they could embrace the Proclamation on the Family, and meet outwardly some of the basic requirements for membership in the church.

This may sound farfetched, but advances in many areas point to a time when we actually face this. Much of human history (and many of its greatest harms) centered on people trying to define personhood—who qualifies for it and who doesn’t. Can you imagine a time when robots, even monogamous, engendered, apparently believing robots could enter the fold?

(Now some of you skeptics will declare that this will never happen. But there have always been some that believe that for theological reasons that humans would never fly, or reach the moon because it was not part of the Earth, or that God could never use evolution to create the human body, all of which we now know happened (and if you do believe that the moon landing was a conspiracy filmed in Hollywood, hold off talking about it, I only want to consider the question at hand about robots. Also, I don’t want this to turn into a discussion on priesthood restrictions in the past, and other related things, admittedly a very important topic, but I want to focus on robots. This is about the future, not the past).

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  1. Latter-day Guy says:

    “What conditions would they have to meet in order to be baptized?”

    Well, to begin with, they would need to be completely waterproof.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Or, in other words, should that robot girl who has been defending John Connor in the Sarah Connor Chronicles get baptized.

    A very interesting question, because it’s so tough. My gut reaction is to say “yes,” but I don’t think I can defend it rationally. Emotionally a being like that convinces me that she is a form of life, even if beyond my comprehension.

  3. if we make them live in Wyoming, it’s the least we could do to let them be baptized.

  4. Maybe we could just add Turing Test questions to the baptismal interview. Given the 1978 precedent, I think a major revelation would be necessary only if these robots requested the priesthood.

  5. Eveningsun says:

    I would answer “Yes,” or more carefully, “The idea of these robots entering the fold is more consistent with LDS theology than with other Christian theologies.”

  6. SteveP, do you know if Golems have to be circumcised?

  7. S.P. Bailey says:

    Indeed, Amri. Wyoming? Clearly the humans had all kinds of bargaining power when that treaty was signed.

  8. Steven P says:

    Waterproof, yes!
    Keven: I’ve got to start watching that. I keep hearing people say good things about it.
    Amri and S. P. B: Especially since we kept Yellowstone.
    Sterling: The question is if they get everything.
    Eveningsun: I think that’s a good point.
    Steve: Need? No. They can choose :)

  9. S.P. Bailey says:

    I like the inclusive spirit of some comments here. But I am skeptical. Do these mecha have spirits? Were they present in the pre-mortal world? And where will it all stop? (If you decide to baptize your blow-dryer, please make sure it is both off and unplugged.)

  10. Latter-day guy… was thinking the same thing.

  11. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 4 Adding the Turing Test questions to the baptismal interview might screen out a few human candidates I’ve known… :)

    That Japanese robot in video looks exactly like audio-animatronic characters they had at the Epcot Center two decades ago. Until she starts walking around, I’m unimpressed.

  12. Gilgamesh says:

    Although not about robots, similar dilemmas are found in the The Gospel of the Lizard Men.

    Click to access Gospel_Lizard_Men_Med.pdf

  13. Larry the Cable Guy says:

    Coming to HBO in the year 2209: Borg Love

    A clan of underground robots live along the Wasatch front . . .

  14. Last Lemming says:

    When we create near-sentient robots, we should program them to worship us. Command them to establish their own church and engage in some redemptive initiation ritual that would not damage their circuitry. Requests to be baptized into the LDS church, however, would be rejected as blasphemous. Once we figure out how to create a perfect robot, we could send it to Wyoming to help the older robots reprogram themselves. Some provision for eventually being recognized as human if that reprogramming is successful would also be in order.

  15. Alpha Echo says:

    Maybe we shouldn’t worry about this until it happens? Also, I would hope that Heavenly Father would chime in at some point during all of this.

  16. so, I’m assuming they are cognizant of the fact that they don’t participate in the afterlife and that they would not be able to feel/respond to the Holy Ghost. If that’s the case, then their desire to be baptized/start a ward community is because they believe and they want to participate in the organization?

    Truth be told, I don’t mind if they get baptized unnecessarily but they don’t need baptism, so maybe we can make up a new ordinance for them to participate in and then they could serve as full members of a functioning LDS ward.

  17. “I’m assuming they are cognizant of the fact that they don’t participate in the afterlife and that they would not be able to feel/respond to the Holy Ghost.”

    Waitwaitwait amri, who says?

  18. It would be like baptizing ‘Data’ from Next Generation right?

    If it would help the baptism numbers of the missionaries they certainly would get baptized. The real question is one of retention. They would need a friend, a responsibility, and nuturing by the word of God.

    Also, there is the issue of baptism for the dead. Once these robots started doing geneology, we might be baptizing cell phones, computers, automobiles, etc. in the temples. No easy feat.

    When would they reach the age of accountability? These robots would likely be obsolete in a couple of months.

  19. okay, then are they resurrected/participate in the next life?

    I don’t mean resurrected in the BSG pre-resurrection hub destruction days, I mean LDS resurrection, three kingdoms etc.

  20. Er. That’s baptizing for cell phones….

    Baptizing cell phones would be silly.

  21. Okay, I take back the HG part. If they can feel emotions and have faith it seems like that should be entitled to the Holy Ghost.

    But do they believe they will can go to heaven if they have they correct ordinances? If that’s the case, then we’d have to figure out if we believed they’d be in heaven and needing the ordinances to get there.

  22. By stipulation, they claim to feel the same things we feel. We have to take their word about their claims that they are conscious, feel the spirit, etc. Remember they claim also they have received a spirit child of God in their bodies. Revelation would be nice, Alpha Echo, sometimes however, as with Stem Cells we are left to think through things, and usually revelation does not come until the right questions are asked (See how often the revelations Joseph Smith received in repose to deep questions and wrestling with the issues), so I don’t think it’s too early to look at this. Part of this stems from the amazing progress that is being made in neurology. The more we understand something the more we can engineer it. I’m predicating H.G. Wells style that at some point in the future this will be an issue for members of the church (given timing on certain Millennial events of course).

  23. Eric, lol. The great mormon distinction that baptizing a phone would be silly, but baptizing a person as a proxy for a cell phone, not so much.

  24. Thanks Norbert.

    Now I am not sure that geneology would be the correct term for the robots. But what would it be? Techneology?

  25. We stuck all our cell phones in the freezer this summer dressed as dial phones to give them a trek experience.

  26. You must love them very much.

  27. They are the future.

  28. We’d do well to remember here that we already create sentient, self-conscious, emotive beings that look and act like us through a kind of evolved technology (conception, prenatal development, childbirth), a technology that itself is becoming increasingly intertwined with what we more typically think of as technology (fertility treatments, in-vitro fertilization, modern medicine in general). This little thought experiment is not that far off from one involving a cloned baby that undergoes development in an artificial “uterus.” My sense (based in part on thinking hard about this post) is that in some primal, unspoken way, humanness means something more to us than anything quantifiable (genes, identifiable attributes), and that that something is connected to wombs.

  29. Brad, you are such a romantic. Will you bear my sentient, self-conscious, emotive being?

  30. Another, Steve?

  31. If there’s room in your artificial “uterus,” yes.

  32. For your technology? There’s always room…

  33. I never thought the Future Robot Mission to Wyoming would fly over Brokeback Mountain.

  34. I want in!

    Brad, good point.

  35. Steve, is it near Yellowstone? If it is we humans might be able to claim it.

  36. Eveningsun says:

    Brad 28: Good point. But I was thinking more along the lines that at least from the theological perspective what matters here is not whether the being came from a womb or from my garage, not whether it’s naturally or artificially created, organic or mechanical, carbon-based or silicon-based, maybe not even whether it can pass the Turing test, but whether it has agency. Isn’t that the most important condition that would have to be met for baptism?

  37. Right — the naturally/artificially created dichotomy isn’t particularly neatly observed in the world of modern medicine. I’m just not sure how one might assess agency in non-/quasi-humans, since I’m not even sure we really know what it means to say that humans have it.

  38. I think that is the problem, there is no way to assess their state of consciousness in anyway except to believe their reports. Theologically, could we believe their reports enough to invite them to the table? If they claimed agency how could we be sure they aren’t zombies–the lights are on, but nobody is home. Should, we invite them just in case their outward claims are real? Better to have members who are not conscious then to deny someone on the chance they are?

  39. And, just to further complicate matters, what happens when we start cloning Neanderthals? All evidence suggests they share all of our cognitive and intellectual capacities, and might even be able to produce viable offspring with humans.

  40. Fwiw, the constant back and forth between hilarity and seriousness reminds me more of “Steel Magnolias” than “Brokeback Mountain”. I’m just trying to figure out if Steve Evans is Julia Roberts, Olympia Dukakis or Shirley MacLaine.

  41. Ray, no straight man has ever said “this reminds me of Steel Magnolias.” Just FYI.

  42. For the record, Evans is Daryl Hannah.

  43. Brad, my making fun of Ray and your calling me Daryl Hannah really killed this thread. An epoxy of dullness ne’er to be equalled.

  44. Lesson learned.

  45. Eveningsun says:

    Hmmm — “could we believe their reports enough to invite them to the table? If they claimed agency how could we be sure they aren’t zombies–the lights are on, but nobody is home.”

    Well, first of all, at least we should agree that agency is the quality we’re interested in checking out. Second, in the scenario we’re envisioning, wouldn’t it be possible for any candidate to be a zombie, a robot pretender, a sort of Manchurian Mormon-to-be?

    “Should we invite them just in case their outward claims are real? Better to have members who are not conscious than to deny someone on the chance they are?”

    Aww, just baptize ’em all and let God sort ’em out.

  46. “And, just to further complicate matters, what happens when we start cloning Neanderthals? ”

    That’s a real consideration. It will happen, sometime, somewhere. Maybe not in the US, but it seems inevitable. Can someone clearly not from Adam (unless you push back Adam about 500,000 years) and of a different species join the church? That is an interesting question!

  47. I say if the robots can pass the Turing test, then they should be baptized.

  48. Yes, S. Faux, someone mentioned that at 9:36 this morning.

  49. Well, as a girl from Wyoming, I have to strongly object to robots being given the state. Have you ever actually met anyone from Wyoming? Because if you had, you’d well recognise that they would say “Robots Be Damned”, it’s still our state!

  50. Oh and it would be deemed an environmental liberal conspiracy to take over our natural resources. ;)

  51. tiffanyswedemomisraeltrip, I spent many of my grade school years in Evanston. I think the robots fighting to have Wyoming shows their advanced intelligence.

  52. Kenny Brassen says:

    Baptize the robots. Baptize them all. Except the gay ones.

  53. What about Neanderthals and other not-quite-human but for all we know intelligent beings that have already existed in our past? Could we baptise them?

  54. Austin A. says:

    I have read this entire thread, but am coming in a little late so please bare with me here. To me the key question to be answered in order to determine need for baptism is “Can they sin?” Without sin there is no need to be baptized (the one exception being the Savior, of course). As we know, children under 8, some of the mentally disabled of any age, etc., are not capable of sin and therefore do not require baptism. The ability to sin is, of course, predicated on being subject to the Law (eternal, not criminal). In order to be subject to the law they must have an innate sense of what it is to be treated justly and unjustly as well as an innate sense of what it means to treat another justly or injustly. In us non-robotic persons, this sense of justice gives rise to us demanding that we either be treated justly or that those who do not do so be punished accordingly, but that we be given a free pass when we treat others unjustly–this is called pride. Without pride, sin is impossible. If these evolving robots are capable of pride and therefore sin, then they are in need of the forgiveness, cleansing, and perfection only available through the atonement of Christ. This means that the robots would need to enter into the covenant through baptism.

  55. Austin A.

    I don’t think it’s at all appropriate such age restrictions to robots. Humans learn and grow from essentially nothing at birth to reasonably rational creatures by the age of accountability (rational, yes…but still with nearly infinite discount rates on their utility functions). Baptism for little children is an abomination because it denies the Atonement of Christ, as little children are not capable of understanding the consequences of sin. There is quite simply no reason under the sun to simply assume that little robots, with engineered and programmed intelligence, should be subject to the same doctrines.

  56. Baptize them. Put them in the Elders’ Quorum and let THEM do all the helping members pack and move on weekends.

  57. Steve Evans says:

    Scott B., suffer not the little robots!

  58. Austin A, I think I agree with Scott here, I think a lot of things that apply to humans might have to be rewritten with an artificial life form, I mean what if they can’t eat? Certain symbolism would have to be structured in other ways. That’s what’s great about having an open cannon. As #5 said, LDS may be able to deal with such and eventuality better than anyone.

    Keith, Holy Cow, they would be the most popular ‘people’ in the ward.

    Steve #57 lol!

  59. Steve, I think many of the scriptures would have to be retranslated. I wonder how the BofM might sound under the first translations out of Wyoming: “I Nephi having been constructed from superior prototypes . . .

  60. I agree that they should be baptized, as well. When we’re resurrected, what are you picturing this body of flesh and bone as being? Of course it’s engineered, designed, built, (or grown… which is just a nano version of construction) and then somehow (and this part is tricky) we come back from the dead to inhabit it. How is that different from robots?

    No question that if they are real people, we should baptize them. But then I’m in favor of extending it to any being capable of moral judgment who has agency.

  61. “But then I’m in favor of extending it to any being capable of moral judgment who has agency.”

    Are liberals and Democrats capable of moral judgment? Dottie thinks not.

  62. Would said robots have special powers that would make them useful to the ward basketball team?

    If the robot Word of Wisdom includes only the use of renewable energy, then the robots will do well in windy Wyoming.

  63. Dottie is apparently dotty.

  64. SteveP-
    It’s becoming apparent that baptism is not needed, because faith is a prerequisite, and the BoM clearly teaches that robots are incapable–

    “And I, Marvin, said unto my owner, I will go and do the things that the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto robots, save He shall program the capabilities and solutions into our source code until we are logically incapable of not keeping the commandments in the first place.”

  65. But remember these are free robots from the independent country of Wyoming. In fact, carved in massive stone the robots have immortalized this modification from Seuss’ “Yertle the Turtle”:

    And today the great Human, that Marvelous he,
    Is King of the Mud. That is all he can see.
    And the Robots of course . . . all the Robots are free
    As Robots and, maybe, all creatures should be.

  66. Would a human risk electrocution in baptizing a robot? That old saw about toasters in the bathtub has me worried.

  67. >”But remember these are free robots from the independent country of Wyoming.”

    Is a man without agency really a man? Is a robot without a rigid motherboard really a robot?

  68. SteveP, well now that I know you have true Wyoming roots, you are free to discuss the issue.

  69. SteveP, but I do feel sorry that it was Evanston was the place of your elementary school years. Didn’t you know that Cody was the promised land? I mean, we do have better mountains.

  70. I don’t know about robots but back when I served my mission, I have to admit, that it felt mighty robotic occasionally.

  71. tiffanyswedemomisraeltrip, in Evanston, Cody was considered a mystical place of which we were not allowed to speak.

  72. Below are the applicable criteria that I would see as necessary for robot fellowship into the church:

    • Possess agency
    • House spirit children of our Heavenly Father
    • Created in God’s image

    In Matthew 3:9 we read, “…God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” In Mosiah 2:25 we read “…ye were created of the dust of the earth.” Based on the scriptures referenced above, the first two would be easy, and I would agree with Tatiana above (#60) that building robots isn’t that different from how we are created, after all, we were created from the dust and we will return to the dust. If God can create children from dust and rocks He certainly can give the breath of life to advanced robots. However, the biggest hurdle to robot baptism is the third criterion. In practice, I don’t think it’s likely we’ll attain the level of advanced mechanics needed to truly create in God’s image before the millennium (but perhaps when we ourselves are gods). It also seems something of a perversion of God’s commandment to multiply and replenish the earth and the gifts that he’s given us to accomplish that.

    So I would say that in theory it is possible but in practice it isn’t likely and also a bit of a perversion. Certainly if this ever becomes an issue, Heavenly Father will have to reveal a fair amount of guidance.

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