1. It’s AI-live
What it is: Blake Lemoine, an AI ethics researcher at Google was put on leave this week after publicly expressing concerns that the company’s AI project called LaMDA had become sentient.
Why it’s fascinating: As CNBC points out, most AI experts feel that true machine “sentience” is likely decades away from where the technology currently resides. But this ethicist clearly felt his experiments in conversation with LaMDA were reason enough to raise an alarm, risking his job in the process. He probably won’t be the last AI ethics whistleblower, either—as humans, our tendency is to ascribe human emotion and characteristics to things. Of course, as Christians, we know that something human-made could never have an eternal soul. Conversations about how to use artificial intelligence will continue to collide with our culture’s confusion over how to define life itself. AI may make our lives feel easier, but at what potential cost? No one seems to be able to answer that question.
2. No News is Good News?
What it is: Reuters has released the 2022 Digital News Report, finding that more and more people, of all ages, are avoiding the news.
Why it’s a window into our culture: According to the report, four in ten people under the age of 35, which the report defines as “social natives,” actively avoid the news. That’s a tiny bit more than those 35 or older, 36 percent of whom say they avoid the news when they can. Part of the reason could be because trust in traditional news sources is at rock-bottom levels, especially in the United States. But mental health is also a big factor. Young people quoted in Reuters’ survey said that the news brings down their mood, contributes to anxiety, and makes them worried. They may opt out of entire categories of news, like the coronavirus or upcoming elections. With the algorithm guiding the content that young people see, it’s actually quite easy to steer completely clear of triggering or upsetting news content if you just keep clicking on BTS hiatus stories and Johnny Depp memes.
What it is: Memes featuring Catholicism have become shorthand for what Gen Z sees as an edgy, maximalist take on spirituality.
Why it’s tiptoeing toward earnestness: When it comes to their memes du jour, Gen Z loves to dress up the thing they’re really curious about, interested in, or afraid of with a protective layer of irony. This enables them to try on different ideas or cultural postures without full commitment to any one thing. Memes featuring rosary beads, TikToks that feature scenes of a Latin mass, and Twitter jokes about confession lift the veil into how Gen Z longs to have direct encounters with the Divine. Unlike Gen X predecessors, many of whom viewed religious ritual with contempt, today’s young people seem to find comfort in how rituals can unite people and provide what feels like an organized path to sanctification. Unfortunately, the posture that this trend takes can err on the side of irreverence. God commands us to fear Him in all things, and He’s clear that mocking His word isn’t acceptable. Teens need to understand that there is a firm line between laughing at the human nature of religion and laughing at God Himself.
At least as we move through summer, we’ll be replacing Slang of the Week with Song of the Week. Music is a big part of teens’ lives, and understanding the soundtracks they choose can be a major entry point for conversation. We hope you enjoy this section.
Song of the Week
“As It Was” by Harry Styles: a song you’ve probably heard by now from one of today’s least traditional pop icons. Musically reminiscent of a-ha’s “Take On Me,” lyrically the song is about going through changes, as well as how the pandemic permanently altered modern life. With 6 weeks at #1, the song continues to propel interest in Styles’ new album Harry’s House. Song lyrics and music video here.
What do fears about AI, the avoidance of news, and Catholic meme accounts have in common? All of them share a preoccupation with transcendence—whether a fear of it, a desire for it, or a fascination with it. Blake Lemoine in Thing 1 was concerned that LaMDA had transcended code and become conscious; the “social natives” from Thing 2 hope to transcend the news cycle’s relentless tragedy and its mental health effects; Thing 3’s renewed interest in Catholic aesthetics embodies a subversive fascination with God and faith. And while Conventcore memes may be meant ironically, as Christians, we understand that God actually is the answer.
In the AD 300’s, church father Athanasius famously said, “God became man that man might become God.” For many modern-day Protestants, these words probably sound heretical—as if we ourselves were destined for the Father’s role and glory, or maybe for some sort of personhood-destroying nirvana. Perhaps we can understand, instead, the idea of being an heir of God. As Paul taught in Romans 8:17, “if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.”
Somehow, through the Christian’s union with Jesus, we inherit what He inherits—but it doesn’t work the way we might expect. As He Himself said in numerous places, “those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” In other words, Jesus teaches that the way to move up and out of our circumstances is through humility. As we purposefully take the lower position—and teach our teens to do the same—in God’s economy, our families will be elevated.
There are lengthy conversations worth having about AI ethics, the pros and cons of avoiding news, and the extent to which laughing about something means trivializing it. But questions around how to transcend our circumstances (and make sure we don’t do it the wrong way) can only be answered by time with our Creator. May God give us all the humility to seek Him.
Ask your teen:
- How do you think God helps us in our struggles?
- What do you think Jesus meant in Matthew 23:12?
- Has God ever helped you deal with a hard circumstance?