Will Computers Outsmart Us by 2040?

Using our future forecasts to make decisions about education today.

The Greek philosophers believed that the acquisition of certain forms of analytic knowledge would set a person free from ignorance and lead to certain understanding of the Good. From this Greek notion came the belief that a liberal arts education is somehow essential to the making of good people. Even today, within some circles (both Christian and secular) there is a strong belief in the almost salvific value of a liberal arts education. Today, however, the flip side of the arts, i.e., technique, has gained the upper hand in our cultural dream of attaining the “good” life. Although Plato and Aristotle relegated technique to the “mean” or lesser pursuits, one has only to look at the budgets of modern universities to realize that it is in technical (practical) pursuits that the real hope for education and salvation lies.

Modern prophets such as the American inventor Ray Kurzweill tell us that by 2030 microscopic robots called “nanobots” will be able to make a blueprint of your brain after you swallow – yes, swallow – a few of them, enabling a computer to replicate your brain’s hardware and making it 10 million times faster than the sluggish, old-fashioned grey stuff you now have within your cranium. The result will be an artificial intelligence immeasurably cleverer than you are.

Vernon Vinge, San Diego State University Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science thinks that computers will be more intelligent than humans within 20 years. Carnegie Mellon University roboticist Hans Moravec thinks it will take a little longer than that for robots to exceed humans in all respects, from running companies to writing novels. But, he predicts, robots will be that advanced by 2040, later evolving to such lofty cognitive heights that, next to them, we will seem as primitive as single-celled organisms seem compared to us. Many other experts in the field of artificial intelligence (an oxymoron if ever there was one) predict the same sensational future, unfolding on about the same schedule. Here in my home province of Alberta the government is planning to spend about 10 times more money in the next 5-10 years on instructional technology in schools than on human resources (read: human teachers).

Education cannot save us
What are we to make of all of this? Lest you conclude that I am a Luddite, using this column as an opportunity to decry the displacement of the liberal arts ideal of education with that of a technical one, I want to make clear that I reject any notion that education of any sort (liberal or technical) is essential to making good people. I reject this notion because the Bible does so. Scripture makes clear that education of any sort cannot save us from evil. Educated and/or well-trained people are not better people than are uneducated or technically illiterate ones. In fact, an educated and well-trained evil person is often more dangerous than an uneducated one. So going to university or technical school has never and will never save anyone, irrespective of whether one majors in philosophy or computer engineering. Only the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus can do that.

So why attend a university at all, and especially why attend a Christian university? That’s a topic for my next column but read Psalm 119: 89-93 and Colossians 1:15-20 for clues.


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