Immortality. That’s a subject I’ve thought a lot about. Who hasn’t? I’ve actually done a little research on current life extension theories, including one involving telomerase, the substance that enables cancer cells to grow unchecked. That theory was mentioned in the Time article. It was the only theory of extending our biological lives that the article discussed. There are some others they didn’t mention that are at least as promising as that one. The subject of immortality speaks to one of the deep longings of the human soul. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has put eternity in our hearts. It certainly seems that is true. We feel like we were made for more than the eight decades or so we have on this earth. It doesn’t feel like it should be all over when a loved one dies. There has to be more. If Ecclesiastes 3:11 is true, and I obviously believe it is, it means God has created us with at least the faint echo of a memory of life without end. We have a sneaking suspicion that there’s more to life than this world. We were made for immortality.
However, what surprised me was that the article in Time had less to do with humans defeating aging and death than it did with computer technology. It focused on the idea that technology is growing at an exponential rate so that by 2023 we will have computers that are more powerful than the human brain. The projection was that by 2045 computers will have true artificial intelligence light years beyond human capacities. It is conjectured that somehow our thoughts and memories might be read into a computer so that though our bodies die we might continue to have some sort of consciousness as a computer. That’s a form of immortality that was not nearly as appealing to me.
One of the reactions the article produced in me was a bit of dread. In little more than a decade we will have computers smarter than us? The discussion raised the specter of sci-fi movies in which computers that are far superior to humans take over and rule the world. They enslave and oppress humanity since we would be, at that point, an inferior species. The article made it seem as though this might soon be a very real possibility. There is always a bit of fear of new technology in some of us, as much as we are fascinated by it. That’s because we sense that at some point some technology that we’re monkeying around with might conceivably spin out of our control and have disastrous consequences that we never imagined. The idea of my future grandchildren living as the slaves of HAL, the computer from the movie 2001, makes me shudder. As I read the article such a thing seemed less like science fiction than a near certainty at some point. It pointed out that there are people who even now are working to figure out some way to put limits on technology so that such a thing can’t happen.
Unfortunately we all know that once the genie is out of the bottle it’s impossible to put him back in. If we create computers that are truly far superior to us it’s a safe bet they’ll be able to figure out a way around any limits that we puny humans have placed upon them. The scenario causes me some uneasiness. I suppose that uneasiness is akin to the feeling I get when I hear about the disastrous consequences that climate change might bring upon us, or when I encounter any of the doomsday scenarios that are attached to all manner of causes. It might be massive solar flares frying all our electronic technology and sending us back to the stone age, or some outbreak of a virus that has mutated out of control, a complete meltdown of the world economy leading to total chaos and breakdown, or the disastrous effects on our society when petroleum finally runs out.
It would be unwise to stick our heads in the sand and say none of that could ever happen. I’m not smart enough to know what is going to happen with rapidly advancing computer technology. I don’t know what’s going to happen to our climate, but it seems to me that our lives on this planet are fragile and dependent upon some pretty narrow tolerances. So the possibility of some kind of cataclysm seems not at all unlikely to me. But there’s a verse in the Bible that brings me comfort. After God judged the rampant evil of the human race with a flood in the days of Noah, He promised “never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done” (Genesis 8:21). Then comes that beautiful promise in verse 22, “As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will never cease.”
Scripture assures us that earth will not endure forever. But it is God who will bring about its end, and He will do so in his timing. It will not be an accident that occurs as a result of technology run amok or the climate somehow being disastrously altered. Summer and winter, seed time and harvest will never cease. They will remain, as reliable as ever, until God brings down the curtain on the whole show. Might God use one of those doomsday scenarios as part of his plan to bring this present age to an end? I suppose, but it will be no accident. It will be part of His eternal plan. To live by faith means at times to not be panicked by what we see, but to have peace because of what we know. What we know is that God is Almighty and that none of His plans can be thwarted. No supercomputer, no climactic effect, no passing comet or asteroid or any other threat is greater than His power. He knows the end from the beginning, for he is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. So I can be calm and rest and know that none of what people do or any other force in existence may do, God’s plan for this planet and for me will come about just as He has ordained. I think it’s a pretty good bet that there will be no computers ruling the earth and no immortal human beings until Jesus comes back and finishes his project on this planet. As Jesus said in John 16:33, I need to take heart and have peace, for he has overcome the world.