It is time for us, you and I, to talk about Artificial Intelligence. When you start your car up in the morning, your watch is already telling you how many minutes it will take you to get to work. Maybe you like that feature, and maybe it gives you the creeps. But how are we to think about such things biblically?
Incidentally, if you take note of this picture to the right, I painted it myself. Well, sort of. I held the metaphorical brush, so to speak, in that I was the guy who thought up the prompts. I think I am pretty good, if it’s myself that says it, at least for a novice.
But then, to be filed under J for Jeepers, we find this kind of thing. AI sermon prep? Everybody knows that AI is to be strictly limited to the concordance and background work of sermon prep, the way I do when I use Logos Bible Software—a lot.
A Basic Distinction
So we need to distinguish what is called narrow Artificial Intelligence from what the smart johnnies are calling the singularity, which would be connected to Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). This would be the day when your Roomba and your smart refrigerator join up with evil forces everywhere in order to help rule the globe. Not to rush to my conclusion here, but I regard narrow AI as simply another tool, and a gift from God. This is to be contrasted with all attempts to get to the AGI moment, and those attempts are impudent and idolatrous wickedness.
With that division, let’s tackle this in two pieces.
The Narrow Path
Narrow AI is simply a tool, and so it has the same pitfalls that other tools do. This is a fallen world, and a man can use a hammer to build a home for his family, or he can use a hammer to break someone’s window in order to steal a stereo. A man can use GPS to find his way in a strange city, or he can use it to plot his getaway after a bank robbery. He can use AI to research for a sermon, or he can use it to write the sermon itself.
Now obviously, all the incremental and narrow uses of AI could eventually be used in a malevolent way, if they are set up in a way that leaves them vulnerable to being sucked up into the Borg. We don’t want that. But if we don’t want the brick wall, why are we putting up with the manufacture of all these bricks? Isn’t every instance of narrow AI simply setting us up for the real problem, the one to be discussed in the next section?
No, and this is why it is lawful for Christians to be involved in the development of narrow AI. Not only is it lawful, to some extent, depending on a person’s gifts, I believe it is mandatory.
All measures invite countermeasures. First the arrow was invented, and then the shield. We need Christian AI developers for at least two reasons that I can think of right off the bat. If we don’t have Christians in AI who is going to develop the app that jams all the inquiries from the surveillance state?
In Second Amendment discussions, I have sometimes been asked “what use a private citizen might have for a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher?” Well, how else are we going to shoot down government drones?
Take these words from Lewis about education, and reapply them to this area.
“But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now—not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”
If the time comes when I can’t buy a coffee pot that isn’t listening in on all our household conversations, and subsequently submitting quarterly reports to the FBI, then who is going to build the app that is going to render all our conversations into a macaronic and coded jumble of Sanskrit and Navajo?
In addition, for the second related reason, we need Christian developers who understand the need for firewalls to be embedded in all narrow tools that will help to prevent them from being gathered up into the big Eyeball in the Sky
But this brings us to the grandiose and godless claims being made on behalf of Big Time AI. Just as clever priests could manipulate the villagers by means of levers that moved their idol’s mouth, while stoking the furnace that made smoke come out the idol’s nostrils, so also our modern idolaters are prepping for a big laser light show. And all the world wondered after the beast (Rev. 13:3).
It is necessary to remind you all once again about why I hate secularism so much, and why I believe atheism presents an existential threat to every form of true liberty. When the secularist posits a societal order without God, we often assume that he is just taking away the place of God, and everything else stays more or less the same. But it is actually a “take and replace” move. When God is removed from the picture, the unbelieving mind does not just see a simple vacancy, but rather a job vacancy. He sees a job opening, and he wants to submit his resume.
This was the primal temptation (Gen. 3:5). “You shall be as God.” Countless kings, emperors, and pharaohs have felt the lure and tug of this. And they would build impressive monuments, or pyramids, or obelisks, in order to testify to the greatness of their so-called aspirational divinity. Our generation is engaged in the same futile venture, whether we call it trans-humanism, or the singularity, or the apex of evolution, and thus we have become like the newspaper editorial writer who started to drink his own ink. We have believed our own lies, and have successfully befuddled ourselves. But it is not simply confusion—there is a darkness to the confusion, and in the final analysis, it empties out into the Void.
And here we see yet another instance of C.S. Lewis’s prescience. This issue of AGI is nothing other than that hideous strength.
“And so,” said Straik, “the lessons you learned at your mother’s knee return. God will have power to give eternal reward and eternal punishment.”
“God?” said Mark. “How does He come into it? I don’t believe in God.”
“But, my friend,” said Filostrato, “does it follow that because there was no God in the past that there will be no God also in the future?”
“Don’t you see,” said Straik, “that we are offering you the unspeakable glory of being present at the creation of God Almighty?”
C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength
Let me put it this way. When we finally succeed in uploading to silicon all our consciousness and all our intelligence and all our memories, what makes us think it won’t be Hell? Can demons work in the medium of silicon? Will this singularity consciousness be a Christian? When we have created our own jitney version of omniscience, and we ask it the meaning of life, will the reply be “the way is Nicene Christianity. Follow that path, and worship the triune God alone”?
Anyone who thinks that has not only not read their Bibles, they have also not watched any good science fiction movies. We are at the part of the movie where the creepy music starts. When the priests move the levers, and the idol starts to speak, the words are not going to be wholesome.
No. If you want to know the first word that our ramshackle god will speak, I think I know what it is. It will be a single word, and it will be an imperative. It will demand one thing from us, and one thing only. That word will be adore.
“Then the high ridge of terror from which Filostrato was never again to descend, was reached; for what he thought impossible began to happen. No one had read the dials, adjusted the pressures, or turned on the air and the artificial saliva. Yet words came out of the dry gaping mouth of the dead man’s head. ‘Adore,’ it said.”
C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength
And if you are not ready to resist at that moment, then it must be said that you are not ready at all.