Because we are designed, we must be guided by values and not merely algorithms. It is good that we take time to learn, to appreciate beauty, to feel wonder, and to have burning questions about what is behind all that we see. God made us this way, so that, eventually, our seeking would lead back to Him. Though He intends to redeem us from the ravages of sin, He never intends to optimize us into efficient machines.
Pixar’s Wall-E has proven to be among the most profound and prophetic films of the last 20 years. After hopelessly polluting the Earth and leaving an army of robots to clean up the planet, humans now live aboard a giant ship built by a company that promises to take care of all its passengers’ needs. Thus, humans are left with nothing to do but amuse themselves and eat a lot.
Many Christians wrote off the Pixar classic because of its hyper-environmentalist message. However, the film’s commentary on human exceptionalism and vocation, specifically the inability of our machines to do our most important work for us, was spot-on. In the world of Wall-E, human beings have a purpose, or a telos that cannot be reduced to maximizing comfort, safety, and convenience.
In the biblical account of reality, humans exist to glorify and love God, and to serve as His special representatives and co-rulers in creation. Human inventions should help towards achieving those ends, extending our abilities, and mitigating the effects of the Fall. Wanting to replace ourselves with our devices assumes that humanity is the central problem of the world that needs to be solved.
Recently in First Things, Matthew Crawford argued that an anti-human worldview like the one parodied in Wall-E now dominates our tech and governing classes. Those who are behind everything from smartphone apps to pandemic policy share a basic belief that human beings are inferior to machines. We are, as he puts it, “stupid,” “obsolete,” “fragile,” and “hateful.”
Crawford opens his essay with an example of a driverless car created by Google that froze at a four-way stop. Apparently, the drivers around the car didn’t behave as it had been programmed to expect.