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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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AI: tool or creature?

‘I think it’s important to think about GPT-4 as a tool, not a creature.’ 

These were the words of Sam Altman, owner of ChatGPT, who recently announced the opening of his company’s first international offices in London. But is it adequate to view ‘artificial intelligence’ as a mere ‘tool’? I’m not so sure. 

I do agree that AI shouldn’t be characterised as a ‘creature’ because I don’t believe AI will ever gain consciousness – the first-person experience of being oneself. Some naturalists argue that humans are simply mechanistic machines made of proteins, and so all human experiences, including consciousness, can be ultimately reduced to the products of electrical brain activity. And it’s only a matter of time before AI replicates this electrical activity. 

However, in a biblical worldview, consciousness appears to be the result of non-physical elements breathed into our humanity (Genesis 2:7; Philippians 1:23–24). Therefore, no matter how complex its circuitry, AI will never become a living soul or gain consciousness. 

Equally, I also don’t think AI can be seen as a mere ‘tool’. In his lecture The AI Dilemma, Tristan Harris (the creator of Netflix’s The Social Dilemma) describes social media as humanity’s ‘first contact’ with AI. He highlights that social media has had cataclysmic and unforeseen consequences, from the adolescent mental health epidemic to the breaking of democracies.  

The power of new AI technologies dwarfs that of social media. If uncontrolled, what are we potentially unleashing on humanity? It’s certainly not a mere new ‘tool’.  

I suggest that we shouldn’t see AI as a creature or a tool, but rather as an entirely new incoming reality. Humanity’s ‘first contact’ with AI changed nearly every element of life. Who knows what the ‘second contact’ will bring?  

That’s why I believe we need a new and comprehensive vision for what it means to live for Jesus in this new reality. How do we act with integrity when reality and fiction become indistinguishable? How do we establish authentic relationships when algorithms can replicate intimacy? How do we engage with corporations that transcend national legislations, and purportedly hold the power to destroy humanity? 

For Christians in Big Tech, the urgent call is the prioritisation of integrity, dignity, and responsibility over profit and hubris. And for all of us, we need to be prepared for this coming reality and willing to adapt in ways as yet unforeseen. Will we rise to the challenge? 

Dr Ben Chang
Ben is a speaker and author of the new book, Christ and the Culture Wars: Speaking for Jesus in a World of Identity Politics. He works full time for the NHS and blogs at www.benchangblog.com

Comments

  1. Based on biology there is nothing unique about humanity (Gen 1 we are all breathed into clay) but we are uniquely different (representing the LORD) . Therefore I’m not sur about the consciousness link…worth talking about.
    Consciousness is a human centric term but is it uniquely human? I don’t know. Is it uniquely biological? I don’t know… but as it’s encoded in life it may not be unique.
    The present risk of AI is as a tool in bad actors hands for…you think it they’ve done it….through lack of care, lack of human centred engagement, for disinformation, fraud etc

    By andrew buchanan  -  7 Jul 2023
  2. Very concerning that Martin Lewis the money saving expert said scammers are using ‘deepfake’ footage of him endorsing bogus investment schemes to con Brits out of their money

    By Felicity Hough  -  7 Jul 2023
  3. In my work as an electronic design engineer we currently use ChatGPT to assist with software writing. It is able to write sections of code if you give it clear instructions. It is also able to explain how code written by someone else actually works. This raises the interesting possibility that AI could “improve” its own design, make itself more powerful. I have also experimented using Google Bard as a tool to help with sermon writing. I asked Bard to write a closing blessing for our service based on the theme of the service, which it did very well, and the congregation went home blessed by AI.

    By Hugh Burnham  -  8 Jul 2023
  4. I think consciousness can most easily be defined as being self aware. Whether or not an AI is self aware, we may never know. Some AIs already claim to be, but how would we ever know? The real danger is when an AI becomes “self aware”, becomes super intelligent (i.e. more intelligent than humans, however we want to define “intelligence”), and is able to improve itself. We then have an entity that I would argue is straight out of Revelations.

    By Phil Mauger  -  21 Jul 2023
  5. Thanks for this insightful post Dr Ben. I have some thoughts I’ve been musing around on this same topic, and would like other’s opinions:
    We should marvel at the fact that we, human beings, are incredibly gifted creatures. In the end, we are the one creating these sorts of technologies that seem to surpass our own capabilities.
    We should also marvel at the sheer possibility of this technology to exist: if it wasn’t because of how language works, Generative AI wouldn’t be possible at all. And this is a very complex topic on its own: it’s seems impossible to determine if language evolved in way that enables this, or if, because it evolved in a particular way, this techniques can be used – in both cases we would need to add agency to evolution, which would be very close to say that there is a Creator. For the Christian, this is an easy answer: language is one of the characteristics we have inherited as part of being made Imago Dei.
    If we, as the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes, agree that, in the end, there isn’t anything new under the sun, I guess we can try to learn from our brothers and sisters in past generations. How have they addressed their own “new incoming realities”, when they faced other technological challenges and what we can learn from those moments. We can take examples from the Atomic era and how christians related to this problem, or we can go further back and learn from what has been done during the tectonic changes produced by the industrial revolution, or during the invention of the Gutenberg’s printed press and so on.
    The Bible itself, I think, offers a few examples that I think can be valuable:
    In the book of Daniel, we see this young man showing that all the “knowledge” of the most advanced civilization was nothing compared with the teachings of the Lord. While the Babylonians thought that eating those lavish foods was the best way to improve the skills and talents of the young people, Daniel took God’s advice and trusted that He knew best.
    Joseph provides another powerful example. Joseph is brought from prison to decipher an impossible dream. The wisdom found in the “scientists” of the age can’t make sense of the challenge, but Joseph wisdom to decipher the dream, plan a solution to the imminent challenge, and, furthermore, become a great leader to a complex nation can only be achieved through God’s grace, inspiration and power. These things will never be found in artificial intelligence.
    The last nugget I’d like to mention is the one found in Jeremiah: “Everyone is senseless and without knowledge; every goldsmith is shamed by his idols. The images he makes are a fraud; they have no breath in them.” – AI has big chances of becoming a modern Idol. We would be wise remembering Jeremiah’s words.

    By Pablo  -  23 Jul 2023

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