In recent months, we have become aware of a great leap in the progress of artificial intelligence (AI). My hunch is that this is a significant step, rightly thought of as a leap of some sort. The AI that is now out there seems to be intelligent in a true sense: able to draw conclusions and take initiative. The key word is “seems.” We just don’t know.
“After Yang” is a 2022 film about an android, Yang, who starts acting erratically one evening and the next morning is nonoperational. He was bought by a family with an adopted Chinese daughter to help her parents with her care, to be a live-in member of their household, and also to put their daughter in touch with her Chinese heritage. So the father (played by Colin Farrell) tries to get Yang repaired before he decomposes. To tell you any more risks spoiling the film, which is, among other things, a traditional tale of a father coming to terms with his failure to be as involved with his family as he should have.
But there are haunting flashbacks. The father is a high-level expert on teas, their aromas, their evocation of woods and flowers, soil and sunshine. Yang says something like: I wish I could understand what you smell and taste in tea. Yang is able to drink, and he’s able to talk about taste. Yet it is clear it is always, and only, intellectual for him. Something is missing.
The humans have feelings for Yang, for each other; they inhabit this world of ours. I wondered if Yang was able to have feelings for them; it seemed he would never be able to be other than a visitor to our world.
An Anglican Note. I preached recently at St. Luke’s on Matthew 15:21-28., the story of Jesus being approached by the Canaanite woman for him to heal her daughter. Jesus is silent, then he speaks (not to her but to the disciples, yet in her hearing) that he was sent only to the lost of Israel. Her great faith comes when she corrects an image he uses! He spoke of children, but she speaks of a table where a master sits and around which household pets (the dogs) find their food also. She finds a place at the Master’s table!
I then concluded:
“From the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549 to the present, Anglicans have had a distinctive prayer said prior to receiving communion: it is on page 337 now. It’s called the prayer of humble access. “We do not presume to come to this thy table, O Lord, trusting in our own righteousness. . . . We are not worthy to gather up the crumbs under thy table.” This prayer is part of the tradition of today’s gospel. We are the Canaanite woman. Jesus deliberately came to us. When we know him as the Messiah, the Son of David, and when we kneel and worship him as the Lord, he fulfills our every need, satisfying the deepest longings of our hearts.”
Out & About. I am to preach at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Terrell, Tex., on Sunday, Sept. 3. The Eucharist is at 10:30 a.m. I will also be teaching in their adult class at 9:30 a.m., which is working through my little book, A Post-Covid Catechesis.
The Good Books & Good Talk seminar is almost here—Sunday, Sept. 10 at 5 p.m. at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, on Christopher Beha’s The Index of Self-Destructive Acts. I have heard from several people who are enjoying the novel, which foretells a good discussion.
In spring 2024 I will be teaching the ethics class at the Stanton Center, which will be back at St. Matthew’s Cathedral (following the exciting completion of the restoration of Garrett Hall). If you’re interested, drop me a line, or see https://edod.org/our-diocese/stanton-center-for-ministry-formation/