The opening chapters of Genesis present a poetic vision of creation as a serene process, with the spirit of God majestically hovering “over the face of the waters” and the various stages unfolding in an orderly fashion, celebrated with the choral blessing: “And God saw that it was good.” But this harmonious pageant is counterpointed by a darker sense embedded in the text that creativity is a risky business and creatures have always the capacity to run amok.
I was reminded all of this not so long ago when I watched a programme on television about artificial intelligence. Advances in neuroscience and computing are leading some to predict that, before the century is out, we will evolve machines with mental capabilities vastly superior to our own. The Australian scientist Hugo de Garis calls them “artilects”, artificial intellects, “almost godlike, massively intelligent machines”.
It’s hard to know where sci-fi fantasy ends and realistic hypothesis begins. For some such a triumph of human ingenuity is to be welcomed. In their benign view we will one day benefit from the services of super-brained robots, playing Jeeves to our Wooster. But others offer a bleaker forecast, envisioning a species of cyber-monsters that will turn on their dimmer-witted inventors – creatures that seek to supplant their creators.
We may never understand what it means to be made in “the image of God”, but we may find out what it means to make gods in our own.