It truly does seem that, for AI, the sky’s the limit on what we can currently ask it to do and what it could become. But we need to ask the question “why?” Why further the illusion that AI is human, in both appearance and functionality, when (as its name says) it is artificial? An answer like “to improve user experience” seems innocent enough, but the results are less so. AI is being used to cheat in school, steal other people’s identities and harm their credibility through deep fakes, create and spread convincing misinformation, and is even being used in a variety of distorted ways by sexual predators. For all these moral evils is the answer throwing AI out (if that were even an option)? Or is there a way it could be used as a tool that truly aids human flourishing?
Tools and Humanity
When asked, PI (an artificial intelligence program) describes the purpose of AI thus: “AI is a tool to assist and augment human capabilities, not to replace them.” In other words, AI should be thought of like a search engine—as a means to an end. Ask it a question and you will get your answer—it is up to you what you do with that information. But are AI and search engines really the same? With a tool, you still need to do the work. A search engine provides links that contain information written by others, you still have to do the work to piece together that information. On the other hand, AI pieces the information together for you; you don’t have to do the work.
It is important to note the above difference because critical thinking, reasoning, and problem solving are all essential to growing as a mature person who can go through life holistically. In fact, only humans have the capability to do these things at a high level. Intelligent animals seem to have some similar abilities—e.g., they can learn that ringing a bell means getting a treat. Some animals have even more abilities, but none of them come close to doing what humans can do. Animals are also incapable of considering the morality of something—for them there is no right or wrong, only instinct. This is because humans alone are created as God’s image. When we choose not to take advantage of our God-endowed capabilities, we are not exercising what God has blessed us with.
AI, when it is truly used as a tool and not as a replacement, can be good. BibleChat, an AI programmed to answer questions about the Bible, strives to make this happen. The creators of BibleChat describe their program as “a powerful supplemental tool leveraging the inspired words of God. We seek to enhance Bible studies, church community and comfort, educate, and connect the lost.”1 They want to provide information on the Bible in a way that supplements the experiences Christians are already having. They don’t pretend that it is the same as talking with and having fellowship with another believer.
BibleChat recognizes the obvious fact that their program is not endowed with the Holy Spirit. God is not AI. AI is not God. But one wonders if their vision for the program is how it will actually be used by others. Will users ask BibleChat questions about Scripture instead of asking and developing a relationship with a pastor or going to church each week? It is important to point out that this potential problem isn’t something that BibleChat can do anything about. The same is true for any AI—safeguards can be put in place to help, but safeguards can still be worked around. So, is it fair to say that AI is the problem?
Made in Whose Image?
For all the potential problems and worrisome situations that are arising with the advancement of AI, it isn’t fair to place the blame on it. Regardless of what conspiracy theorists predict it could become in the future, right now it is still just a program that must be operated by a user. The user chooses the question to ask and chooses whether to use the answer as a tool for right or wrong. Even when AI is used simply as a tool, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t countless devious ways that a tool can be used just as search engines have been.
The deeper problem is found in humans. As with any tool, it must be put into motion by a person, for good or ill. Ultimately, the question is not about what AI can or cannot do. AI cannot take anything away from humanity. But humanity can give away their own humanness. Why do we want to let a machine do our thinking for us? Why do some choose to utilize AI in evil ways? Why do we want to deceive ourselves by creating a machine so human-like (in other words, made in our own image) that it can fool us?
Ever since sin entered the world, humanity has fallen into and actively pursued it. The story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) is an excellent example of this. The descendants of Noah decide that they want to build “a tower that reaches to the heavens” so that they can make a name for themselves (Genesis 11:4). Rather than choosing to humble themselves and walk with God, they pursue their own pride, believing they don’t need God. God saw their pride and knew what it would do to them, so he intervened, toppling their tower.
The ultimate answer to overcoming the potential problems of AI is not letting sin rule us. When we choose the morally right way and utilize our God-given abilities, we are choosing the path God has laid out for us. Our humanity comes from being made in God’s image. When we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us into the right paths, we can use our God-given abilities to produce life-giving things as opposed to being buried under our sin. The more we choose the latter, the less human we become and no amount of building something grand in our own image can save us from that fate.
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