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March 5

Is AI Dangerous? Things Christians Should Consider About AI

Artificial intelligence Jesus

A few weeks back, a reddit user on r/trans shared a response from popular language model ChatGPT. Feeling dejected, they had asked the AI to write a fake bible verse about Jesus accepting trans people. ChatGPT’s response, while a little lengthy, is a fascinating example of the AI’s ability to generate believable text. The fake verse begins with a woman approaching Jesus and asking, “Lord, I come to you estranged, for my spirit and body are not one. How shall I hope to enter the kingdom of God?” It then gives Jesus’ response: “My child, blessed are those who strive for unity within themselves, for they shall know the deepest truths of my Father’s creation. Be not afraid, for in the kingdom of God, there is no man nor woman, as all are one in spirit. The gates of my Father’s kingdom will open for those who love and are loved, for God looks not upon the body, but the heart.”

Again, this isn’t in the Bible. It’s written by an artificial intelligence that is designed to consume massive amounts of text in order to generate believable responses to prompts a user gives it. We could spend this entire video unpacking this verse the AI created, the things that seem real, and the theology it tweaks or twists. But for this video, we want to turn our attention to AI itself and discuss a Christian response to the new, AI-filled world humanity is staring down.

How does AI work?

To begin, it’s important to understand how we got here. Artificial intelligence isn’t actually new, but it does feel like over the last year, it has captured everyone’s attention. There’s a variety of reasons for this, but one of the biggest is how AIs are designed.

hands of an AI robot and human touching

For a long time, AIs were built by training. Essentially, an AI was given a very specific task and it would use task-specific data to learn how to perform it. The AI, through repetitive trial and error, would slowly get better at one specific thing, but its learning was limited to the specific task. A good example of this is Google’s Deepmind AI learning to walk in 2017.

But this all changed recently when a type of AI called Large Language Models were introduced. Listen to how Aza Raskin from the Center for Humane Technology explains it.

What is a large language model?

Essentially, Large Language Model AIs use language as a starting point to accomplish a wide variety of tasks from producing music to writing code to being a digital companion (we’ll come back to that one in a second). With all this in mind, ChatGPT’s fake bible verse becomes a little more understandable. The Bible is the most popular, most talked-about book of all time, and so the AI has a lot of language to work with, and is able to craft something that sounds accurate.

It’s worth pausing and stating something that may seem obvious: because AI works off of human language, it inherently is designed to mimic humans. It mimics the way we talk, create art, and go about our work, with all the good and the bad, the highs and the lows. If you’re curious, much of the doomsday hand-wringing around AI is either related to its potential to grow beyond humanity – our intelligence and understanding – or to emphasize the worst parts of humanity – our violence and racism. That’s a topic for another time though. For right now, it’s apparent that AI is here to stay, and as it continues to develop, it will act and talk and look more and more like us, no matter how creepy that feels.

Maybe the clearest example of this is the emergence of what we’ll call the AI companion. This ranges from AI girlfriends to the rise of the chatbot, like Snapchat’s My AI. For years, social media has claimed to be about fostering human connection. But when Snapchat pinned a 24/7 AI chatbot to the top of users’ contact lists, it seemed like a moment of honesty: that maybe the goal of social media really isn’t to help us connect with our fellow human beings, but to keep us connected to the app—even if that means talking with a Snapchat-sponsored AI more than with other actual people.

Now, AI certainly is a long way from actually replacing human connection and companionship, but it certainly isn’t helping our culture’s identity crisis – the ways we define our humanness and our personhood. In her book “Love Thy Body”, Nancy Pearcey talks about a philosophy she calls “personhood theory.” The simplest explanation is that in many people’s minds, being human and being a person are now not necessarily the same thing. Some people may be considered human but not necessarily count as a person yet, or anymore—and this belief is used to justify things like abortion and euthanasia.

It seems like with AI, we’re now seeing a new twist on personhood theory. Before, people believed in the human non-person; now, AI presents the personal non-human.

What does the Bible say about artificial intelligence?

As complicated and anxiety-producing as it might seem, the conversation about AI is ultimately a conversation about technology. In his book “From the Garden to the City,” John Dyer explores the redeeming and corrupting power of technology from a Christian perspective, arguing that when God gives humanity dominion over the earth in Genesis 1, he’s inviting them to “transform God’s creation for practical purposes.” The distinction John Dyer makes is that as we transform the world with the technology we create, it is also transforming us. “Technology, then, is the means by which we transform the world as it is into the world that we desire. What we often fail to notice is that it is not only the world that gets transformed by technology. We, too, are transformed.”

AI is still a pretty new technology, and it’s not quite clear exactly what it’s going to do to us as a culture and as humans. What we do know is adapting to a world with artificial intelligence requires wisdom, which is thankfully exactly what God promises to give us. As it says in James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

In the meantime, here’s a couple of questions to kickstart the conversation:

Does the rise of AI make you nervous? Why or why not?

What do you think of AI chatbots? Would you use one? Why or why not?

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