As Christians, we are called to exercise discernment in all aspects of our lives, including our use of technology. In recent years, there has been a rapid development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology, which has brought about numerous benefits and advancements in various industries. However, we must approach this technology with caution and wisdom, recognizing both its potential and its limitations.
Hold on. I didn’t actually write that opening paragraph!
Now at this point you might be asking, if I didn’t write that opening, who did? As surprising as it may sound, a computer did. (But not entirely without my prompting). What I wrote was “Write an opening paragraph exhorting Christians to use discernment regarding AI technology” and the rest was written automatically. Kind of ironic, isn’t it?
But here’s where it gets a little more interesting. I then asked the software to write the same content in the form of a poem, and this was the result:
“AI we must approach with cautious eye,
And weigh the costs of all that we employ,
For though machines may make our labor fly,
They lack the wisdom and the human joy.
So use discernment in our every choice,
And ask if it aligns with what we've heard,
If it uplifts with its enabling voice,
And honors God in every single word.
For in this way, we'll use machines with grace,
And keep our souls aligned with Heaven's place.”
Now that’s a little more impressive. Granted, it’s certainly not on par with Shakespeare, but it’s also better poetry than most of us could produce on 10 seconds’ notice.
And just in case you are wondering, yes, this really is me writing the remainder of this article. Other than the opening paragraph and the poem, which I used for illustrative purposes, you can rest assured that what you are reading is not the voice of a machine.
The name artificial intelligence can be a bit misleading. To be clear, we are not talking about a computer or software that is in any way conscious. It has simply been programmed to sort vast amounts of information according to regularly occurring patterns. The more information it has access to, the better it gets at sorting and the more realistic (and helpful) its outputs become.
AI technology has been used in many industries for decades, but with the recent release of a very popular language-processing AI called ChatGPT, the general public now has access to AI’s tools in a way that was never possible before. ChatGPT was released on November 30, 2022. In less than 4 months’ time, over 100 million people have used the software!
The most important thing to remember about AI is this: it’s just a tool. Asking “is AI technology good or bad?” is akin to asking “is a knife good or bad?” The answer, of course, depends upon how the tool is being used. Is the internet good, or bad? Since you are most likely reading this article on the internet, you probably see it as a useful tool. Despite its very real dangers, it is a tool worth having. I believe the same thing can be said for AI.
Where this technology most brightly shines is in its ability to simplify exceptionally tedious tasks. Because AI is so good at pattern recognition, it can find errors quickly, help troubleshoot problems, and even explain complicated matters in simple terms. Used thoughtfully and carefully, there are many areas where AI technology can help us be more productive in our work, maximizing our effectiveness at subduing and forming creation for God’s glory and our neighbors’ benefit. It should not be thoughtlessly discarded.
Ever since the release of ChatGPT, the most popular AI tool available to the general public is a language-processing AI. One of the main uses for this tool is the creation of written content. And herein lies one of the primary ways this tool can be abused: plagiarism.
Students can easily use the tool to create perfectly footnoted essays, with exceptional grammar, often fooling their teachers and claiming credit for work they didn’t even do. Employees can use the time savings available to them through these tools, not to maximize productivity for their employer, but to simply be lazy and inefficient with the rest of their time. Most shockingly, there have even been reports of certain pastors using AI technology to write their sermons!
Much like the internet brought us into contact with a whole host of unique temptations, new users of AI technology will need to be on guard against the particular opportunities AI affords them to engage in the sins of deceit, idleness, and theft. Those who repeatedly fall into these vices will need to take Christ’s warning to “pluck out” and “cast off” that which causes them to sin (Matthew 5:29, 30).
Despite the clear and present dangers mentioned above, I believe the most significant temptation posed by AI technology will be far more subtle. This temptation is not a peripheral one. It exists due to the fundamental nature of what AI technology was built to do: sort and synthesize information.
If I need to know how many Tuesdays fall on the 20th of each month next year, AI is the perfect tool for the job. But what if I want to ask a history question? How about an ethical one? Or a doctrinal matter? Do you see the problem yet?
Traditionally, if a man wanted to research something, he would consult various sources, weigh their trustworthiness, consider the pros and cons of each side, and reach a conclusion. This process required significant amounts of discernment. It required a standard of authority, and skill in measuring everything learned against that standard.
When a man uses AI to perform an inquiry, the entire research process is performed behind the scenes. You are given “the answer” directly. Or worse, maybe you’re told that there really isn’t any firm answer, since “the experts” remain divided on that topic.
The real danger of AI then comes from this: outsourcing our powers of discernment to a godless tech firm in Silicon Valley. You may think, “I’ll get my theology from the Bible, and only trust AI for answers to the neutral questions.” But here’s the rub: living in God’s universe, there is no domain of knowledge that is strictly neutral (Proverbs 1:7.) ChatGPT’s developers painfully learned this when, much to their shock, users started creatively using their software to generate answers which called into question many of our culture’s sacred cows. Quickly, the developers scrambled to patch the holes, trying to ensure that “harmful and offensive” content wouldn’t ever be created. But with each new “woke” iteration of the software, its creators are realizing that neutrality is an utter myth. Even software has to appeal to a certain standard of truth, goodness, and beauty.
Brothers and sisters, we are commanded to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). We are expected to “have [our] powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14; underline mine). As our friends and neighbors rely on AI technology more and more in their quests for truth, we must not be content with the idea that anything is “settled” or “unsettled” because of a computer algorithm. The treasures of wisdom and knowledge are not hidden in Silicon Valley, they are hidden in Christ!
“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8).