Robots in the Workplace

Explores the relationship between robots and the job market. Can robots replace humans? Should they? What does the church say?
joy, dance, abandon, retreat

God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth (Genesis 1:28 ).

I love watching Sci-fi movies and tv shows. Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of shows and movies about robotics. It began with shows like Black Mirror and movies like AI. Better Than Us is the latest in my bing watching cycles. While I feel the plot meanders a little, It explores nicely the effects of a post-human society.

What’s a post-human society you ask? It’s a society, where manual labor is done by robots instead of humans.

As you scream instructions into Siri for the fourth time, you may think we aren’t heading towards a post-human world. Yet studies have shown that technology evolves faster than natural evolution.

Better Than Us showcases a world in which robots perform basic human functions better than humans themselves. Past sci-fi stories such as Blade Runner concern themselves with epistemological questions such as how do we know robots are conscious. Better Than Us seeks to ask what effect would robots have on the economy? One of the major incentives in the show for ultra-intelligent robots has to do with early retirement.

So what does the church say about all this? Should Christians be concerned about the over-reliance on machines for manual labor? How does it affect our notion of humanity and the way we view religion.

Robot priests?

I have heard many suggestions to fix the priest shortage. Solutions such as allowing priests to be married or heaven forbid, female priests. Yet the wackiest suggestion comes from Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio. She suggests to the Daily Mail that the church should reimagine the priesthood as robots. 1

Yes, I had to make sure I wasn’t reading the Onion or Babylon Bee.Lest you think this is some far-out possibility that can only happen 20 to 30 years from now, you haven’t been keeping up with your Buddhist trends.

Meet Pepper, a robot Buddhist monk, who performs funeral services.

Maybe our next confession could be to a machine?

A Case for Human Priest

In the Catholic religion, the effectiveness of the sacraments comes from the passion of Christ, fully man and divine. Thus the sacraments must be administered by a man acting in the person of Christ.

There is no dualism in Catholicism. Man consists of both a body and soul in a perfect union. In other words, the sacraments must be performed by a rational animal.

Can Robots be Rational Animals?

Robots in their current form cannot be rational animals. Even the most sophisticated programs rely on unsupervised pattern recognition through neuro-networks to make predictions and take action. They have no self-awareness or will.

That being said, robots could reach a certain level of sophistication that the take on a humanness quality. I suppose the Vatican will have to address those theological concerns should the need arise.

Robots Encroachment on Jobs

Furthermore, most philosophers and theologians write about the implications of intelligent robots on human nature. Few talk about the way robot labor effects jobs and work.

The Catholic Church has written an encyclical on the value of work both objectively and subjectively. St. John Paul II wrote Laborem Exercens, On Human Work.

Objective Sense of Work

St. John Paul II writes, “work is the fundamental dimension/ of man’s existence.”2 He cited Genesis 1:28 as the principal reason for the church’s belief. A man subdues the earth when he cultivates the land and transforms its products for his own use. St. John Paul II called this the objective sense of work. He acknowledges a subjective component to work

Subjective Sense of Work

People are made in the image of God. This allows humans to act based on self-realization. In a way, this encyclical critiques capitalism. St. John Paul II states that the value of work is determined by the person working, not by the work itself. Thus, work should promote the dignity of the individual. 3

Robots and Job Market

Before the industrial revolution, man’s work involved helping out on the family farm. After the industrial revolution, man’s work became isolated from the land. Yet the work still involved subduing the earth. St John Paul II states that “even in the age of ever more mechanized “work”, the proper subject of work continues to be man.” 4

Man must be the subject of work, not robots. We must balance technological innovation with maintaining man’s personal incentive to responsibility. 5 We don’t want to live in the world of Wall-E, where the humans on the ship had no personal responsibility.

Technology can cease to be man’s ally and become almost his enemy, as when the mechanization of work “supplants” him, taking away all personal satisfaction and the incentive to creativity and responsibility, when it deprives many workers of their previous employment, or when, through exalting the machine, it reduces man to the status of its slave. 6

As we rely more and more on robots to do tasks for us, we must always remember that man is made for work.

Conclusion

I love technology.

As a person with a disability, I need assistive technology to function. Yet such technology is a tool or instrument to help me work. It can never replace me as a person.

We serve a God, who creates and exercises dominion over his creation. Silicone and plastic should never replace by  Humans, as made in God’s image. We also hunger to create and have dominion over our creation.

Let us be wary of a future that rids us of responsibility or duty to work.

  1. Dyer. “Daily Mail.” Daily Mail, 19 Sept. 2019, www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7481249/Robopriest-Catholic-church-ordain-ROBOTS-sophisticated-AI-priests-sister-proposes.html?fbclid=IwAR0ITDlQ-suwQ4OXSMvuRoV9Avi-DBG0tvbYwlYmKW4MMiM5g8iudc1DnE.
  2. St. John Paul II. Laborem Exercens. On Human Work 14 September 1981, http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_14091981_laborem-exercens.html
  3. St. John Paul II. Laborem Exercens. On Human Work 14 September 1981, http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_14091981_laborem-exercens.html
  4. St. John Paul II. Laborem Exercens. On Human Work 14 September 1981, http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_14091981_laborem-exercens.html
  5. St. John Paul II. Laborem Exercens. On Human Work 14 September 1981, http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_14091981_laborem-exercens.html
  6. St. John Paul II. Laborem Exercens. On Human Work 14 September 1981, http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_14091981_laborem-exercens.html
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2 thoughts on “Robots in the Workplace”

  1. Pingback: THVRSDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  2. Sarah-No wonder there are headlines today that say robots are being sabotaged to save human jobs. We will need to worry when robots begin sabotaing humans.

    Let me know when a robot thinks up an original joke, tells it to another robot, the other robot “gets it.” and the other robot laughs. Or the other robot does not get it and tells the jokester, “you never could tell a joke.”

    And then let me know when one robot does an act of selfless love for a human being or another robot. And, more particularly, let me know when that love is embodied in a baby robot, first unborn within a mama robot, and then born into a mommy-daddy robot family.

    More technically, check out why Goedel’s Incompleteness theorems prove that machines that think as humans are not possible. These theorems, and their intellectual offspring, prove the inherent limits not only of all mathematics, but of all science based on math, i.e. all science.

    BTW-Excellent article! and much thanks for all the sources.

    Guy, Texas

    “Gödel’s incompleteness theorems are two theorems of mathematical logic that demonstrate the inherent limitations of every formal axiomatic system capable of modelling basic arithmetic. These results, published by Kurt Gödel in 1931, are important both in mathematical logic and in the philosophy of mathematics. The theorems are widely, but not universally, interpreted as showing that Hilbert’s program to find a complete and consistent set of axioms for all mathematics is impossible.

    The first incompleteness theorem states that no consistent system of axioms whose theorems can be listed by an effective procedure (i.e., an algorithm) is capable of proving all truths about the arithmetic of natural numbers. For any such consistent formal system, there will always be statements about natural numbers that are true, but that are unprovable within the system. The second incompleteness theorem, an extension of the first, shows that the system cannot demonstrate its own consistency.

    Employing a diagonal argument, Gödel’s incompleteness theorems were the first of several closely related theorems on the limitations of formal systems. They were followed by Tarski’s undefinability theorem on the formal undefinability of truth, Church’s proof that Hilbert’s Entscheidungsproblem is unsolvable, and Turing’s theorem that there is no algorithm to solve the halting problem.”

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