Thursday, July 25, 2024

Theology and technology

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LINDSAY MAST, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: Christians and artificial intelligence.

Last month, Pope Francis weighed in at this year’s meeting of the G-7. That’s the Group of Seven nations including the United States, Japan, Canada, and four Western European countries.

One issue the pope addressed is artificial intelligence, saying the church and nations should be concerned about it.

PAUL BUTLER, HOST: How should Christians across denominations be involved with AI and what are leaders saying?

WORLD Radio’s Mary Muncy reports.

POPE FRANCIS: No technology is neutral, no technology is neutral, I repeat.

MARY MUNCY: At the G7 Summit, Pope Francis, speaking through a translator, cautioned leaders that artificial intelligence could be a great tool, but it could also humble nations.

POPE FRANCIS: To speak of technology means speaking of what it means to be human and therefore our unique condition between freedom and responsibility.

Francis asked the leaders not to view technological advancement as the cure for the world’s troubles—nor pursue progress with abandon.

POPE FRANCIS: It’s up to each to make good use of it and it’s up to politics to create the conditions whereby this good use is possible and fruitful.

Governments all over the world are wrestling with how to regulate AI without stifling innovation. But without a consistent moral framework, creating guidelines has been slow.

The G7’s current guidelines include promoting the safety and security of democracy and upholding human rights.

Some companies have also started creating their own testing mechanisms to lessen the need for government regulation.

But other companies are moving in the opposite direction. Industry leader OpenAI drew criticism earlier this year for disbanding its committee on long term safety. This follows leaders resigning citing irresponsibly fast development.

In response to this confusion, religious leaders like Pope Francis and others hope to bring clarity to the situation.

JASON THACKER: I think the Pope is right in saying that people of faith need to be part of these conversations.

Jason Thacker is assistant professor of philosophy and ethics at Boyce College. He helped the Southern Baptist Convention create its statement last year.

THACKER: Christians specifically have an opportunity to speak in, to speak to the image of God, to issues of human dignity, and how we frame that in light of God’s world and God’s creation.

The SBC’s position statement acknowledges that the fall affects every part of humanity, including the technologies we create, and that Christ has power over all of it.

The statement emphasizes that AI has a unique power to shape our view of reality. Sometimes it’s small things like algorithms that affect what you see first on social media or a news site, or the first answers that pop up when you ask Google a question. But AI can also have life-or-death consequences.

THACKER: AI is affecting human dignity when we think of warfare, when we engage in wars and international wars, the use of drones, the use of cyber attacks and things to realize that technology is shaping our view, our love of neighbor, and how we even think about pursuing justice in a very broken world.

Pope Francis and the Southern Baptist Convention’s statements put the onus on developers and governments to make sure that humans are still making human decisions, but that raises a question: Why should humans make these decisions?

TREVOR SUTTON: For a long time, intelligence has been the defining feature of being human.

Trevor Sutton is a Lutheran pastor and writer on Christianity and technology.

SUTTON: What’s happening is we are looking at AI and its intelligence, this artificial intelligence, and we are saying this is pretty intelligent. In fact, this might be more intelligent than we are in some areas.

Sutton says that notion contributes to the anxiety around AI. But while these models can tell you information, they cannot empathize, or provide wise counsel.

That’s one of the things that the SBC’s statement addresses—AI does not have a soul.

SUTTON: If we go to Genesis 2, recognizing that being human means being a creature created by God, being human in some way is, is essentially tied up with having the breath of life endowed by God. And so with that in mind, I think we can make a really strong argument that AI will never, ever take the place of being human.

Sutton says that can help Christians strike a balance between optimism and pessimism on emerging technologies. Then people can use AI for things like automating repetitive tasks while regulating its use in weapons or things that affect mental health.

And Thacker agrees. He says AI hype has come in waves since the 1950s, and so far, it hasn’t ushered in utopia, or the end of the world.

THACKER: We have a hope. We know that Jesus is alive. We know that Jesus is sitting at the right hand of the Father, that death has been defeated. So we don’t have to kind of uncritically fear these technologies, nor put our hope in them.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Mary Muncy.


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