How Should Christians Think About Artificial Intelligence?

No one living in our modern world can escape the impact of Artificial Intelligence. How can Christians think responsibly and biblically about AI?

More By Rajan S. Mathews

Business and society are all abuzz with the idea of Artificial Intelligence, Applied Intelligence, or AI, as it is commonly called.

Today’s media—business and social—are filled with mundane claims for what AI can do, as well as far-fetched projections of a world taken over by AI controlled, human-like robots.

Clearly, the world is changing rapidly. Social commentators have talked about moving from the “Industrial Revolution” to the “Knowledge Revolution.”

In such an environment, we can fully expect to read about “smart cities, smart grid, smart vehicles, smart meters, smart devices” and so on.

We have witnessed wars transition to “cyber-attacks.” These can be more devastating than the effects of traditional warfare.

One mother recently told me that her baby’s first word was, “Alexa.”

To understand how things are at present, globally we generate 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day. That is 2.5 followed by 18 zeros! 

In 2020, globally we generated 44 zetta bytes of data. This is projected to grow to 175 zetta bytes by the year 2025. A zetta byte is 1 followed by 21 zeros!

It is estimated that each year we put out more data than in the past 100 years. All this begs the question, “How are we to assimilate, process, and use all this data?”

Welcome to the world of AI.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

In 1955, John McCarthy, professor emeritus of Stanford University in California, USA, coined the phrase “Artificial Intelligence.” He defined it as “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines.”

More recent definitions say it is the “theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence.” 

Another definition calls it the “simulation of human intelligence by machines, especially computer systems.”

AI was developed to help humans deal with the large amount of data we generate. It helps to apply “algorithms” that analyse the data, detect patterns, and correlations. Then it uses this information to make decisions.

AI attempts to mimic the human brain’s functioning. It does this through computer programs that utilise the advanced computing power and storage capacity of modern computer systems.

It can be used for Predictive Analysis, Computer Vision, Natural Language Processing, Intelligent Automation, Deep Learning, Dark Data, Robotics, among other things.

At the heart of all this, human beings are creating the algorithms that drive AI. As such, AI reflects all the good and bad that human beings are capable of.

How should Christians think about AI? How should we respond to this rapidly changing world dominated by AI?

Seek to Understand How AI Works

First and foremost, it is necessary for Christians to become aware of the extensive world of AI. We need to understand how deeply it impacts us in our daily lives and work environments.

Christians were always at the forefront of managing information and using technology to manage it—preaching, writing, monasteries, universities, the printing press, and communications, just to name a few. 

AI reflects all the good and bad that human beings are capable of.

We should not be afraid of technology but learn to understand the AI applications we are using—from Alexa, Google, Meta, Facebook, smart phones, smart appliances, smart vehicles, bitcoin, and all forms of social media.

All these applications have inherent biases that creep in from the biases of the programmers who create the algorithms. These biases also emerge from the data sets that are used by the AI program.

For example, AI applications that use vast data generated by police records will inherently reflect the reporting and recording biases embedded in such police records.

Ignorance is no longer an acceptable norm for Christians. Please read the fine print before you say, “I Accept.”

Set Safeguards in Your Use of AI

Christians should understand that they cannot escape the world of AI.

All good AI systems are iterative—they continue to gather data from the environment and use this to improve their predictive ability. This data is often in large measure the personal data you generate.

Therefore, we should be mindful about what personal data and data generated by daily activity should be shielded from AI systems. This data could be used for manipulative uses and, in the worst case, for extortion.

We should not be afraid of technology but learn to understand the AI applications we are using.

Identity theft is becoming an increasing problem and this data is often used by AI applications for inappropriate ends.

Children, especially, need to have parental oversight over what they use and the information they disclose. They will seldom have the ability to protect themselves because of their ignorance about AI.

Even the camera on smart phones captures personal information, as does Alexa and other such seemingly benign devices and applications.

There are many solutions to provide adequate protections over data collection, use, and disclosure decisions. Please use them.

Actively Take Part in Shaping the Future of AI

Christians should be actively involved in the process of the formulation by government of data gathering, monitoring, and protection measures.

The Scriptures take pains to emphasise concern for the vulnerable. We should ensure adequate protections are embedded for minority interests, minors, and marginalised sections of society.

Christians should join their voices to those in civil society that make common cause with Christian principles.

We should ensure that companies that gather personal data have sufficient protections embedded in their collection. Such companies should use our personal data and provide safe storage for it, in compliance with the law.

No one living in our modern world can escape the impact of AI. So, as Christians, we must not only get familiar with its use but also gain proficiency to manage and even design it for the church and the common good.