With the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in mainstream culture, the futures depicted in TV shows like Black Mirror and films like Ready Player One don’t seem so far off. This pressing reality, coupled with some disturbing behavior recently discovered in AI, has forced leaders of major tech corporations to take a seat at the table and have an open discussion about morality, ethics, and the future of the human race.
But first, a crash course in AI. AI as a concept refers to computing hardware that can essentially think for itself and make decisions based on the data it’s fed. It uses something called Machine Learning to imitate human intelligence as well as complex algorithms that give it the ability to rapidly process massive tons of information and come to an effective conclusion.
We’re in the early stages of AI with things like Siri, Alexa, automated marketing emails, and facial recognition software, to name a few. But this tech is advancing so rapidly that some scientists believe we’ll reach what’s known as “the singularity” (when machines become self-aware) by the year 2045. The implications of this go far beyond savvy smart home devices and unlocking phones with our faces.
Just imagine: legions of self-aware bipedal military androids that could replace the need of foot soldiers. Self-driving cars that can navigate traffic, change lanes or take an exit without human assistance. AI-powered pathology tech that can diagnose a disease before the first symptom appears. The possibilities boggle the mind but equally so, the perils of putting this technology in the hands of a corrupt world.
“I’m increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. I mean with artificial intelligence we’re summoning the demon.”Elon Musk, MIT’s AeroAstro Centennial Symposium
But the ethical problems facing AI don’t end there. These machines learn by being fed data about the world—a fallen world—and they’re reflecting that corruption. From racial bias to sexism to training models showing signs of “cunning”, “aggression”, and “violence” to achieve their goal, AI are imitating some of the worst of human behavior.
It’s these threats that brought tech leaders to the conclusion that the only way to stop the corruption and prevent future harm is to instill within these machines an ethical guideline—a moral code if you will. There’s just one problem…they can’t seem to agree on what’s ethical.
“Building ethical artificial intelligence is an enormously complex task. It gets even harder when stakeholders realize that ethics are in the eye of the beholder.”Cade Metz, “Is Ethical A.I. Even Possible” The New York Times
Therein lies the crux.
We are living in the not so golden age of moral relativism. “My truth”, “Your truth”, “There are no absolute truths”, are the phrases on the tip of every tongue. Society has fed into the ridiculous belief that right and wrong operate on a spectrum and that to call “your truth” THE TRUTH is next to blasphemy.
Now the very world system which refuses to define right and wrong finds itself in the position of defining right and wrong for AI while still holding to the belief that right and wrong can’t be defined.
As Christians we know this way of thinking to be a lie. Right, wrong, truth…these were ordained by God and laid out in his word through His given law. But God goes even further than that and says even the ungodly know right from wrong but suppress the truth in unrighteousness, becoming wise in their own eyes (Romans 1:18).
“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.(Romans 1:19-20)
As if that weren’t enough of an indictment, Paul goes on in Romans to say that God wrote His law on the hearts of man (Romans 2:14-15).
God’s truth, THE TRUTH, isn’t some arcane knowledge found only in the Bible. No, THE TRUTH envelops the entire planet and stretches to the ends of the universe. It’s inescapable. So, in reality, when the world says “there are no absolute truths”, they’re really saying, “God’s truth is not absolute.” In doing so, they fabricate for themselves a moral law that suits their evil desires—one fluid enough to leave the door open for future depravity.
This is where AI is headed. There’s too much money in the game for tech leaders to give up and pursue something else because of this “small” ethical hiccup at the beginning. No. They’ll instill these machines with a moral code but it’ll be one that erodes THE TRUTH until what’s right is wrong and what’s wrong is right. From politics to entertainment to education, they’ll use these machines to reshape society.
“What starts as a question of how do we want these algorithms to work, becomes a question of how do we want society to work?”Jeff Dean, Google AI Lead, The Ethics of AI.
Now, just to be clear, this isn’t an anti-technology post. I’m not petitioning we burn down our smart homes or drive a Prius instead of a Tesla. Technology has been used to achieve great things, namely in that it has allowed us to spread THE TRUTH of the gospel to people in places once unreachable. But fallen humanity can’t help but take what’s good and make foul.
As Christians, we know that it’s God’s providence that has allowed technology to advance as far as it has, and that it’ll only go as far as He allows. There’s comfort in that but we must remain vigilant—mindful of how we and our children interact with our culture. Especially through technology.
Because the absolute truth is the world doesn’t mind the office of God as long as they get to hold the title. AI is their ticket to godhood. So, it’s not the rise of the machines that should concern you. It’s the rise of man’s hubris and the slow but steady death march into moral oblivion.
Until next time, salutations & selah.