The robots are rising. Christians need to be ready. We need to be aware of what’s now on the horizon because our world will never be the same.
These technologies will massively impact everybody.
Our work, lifestyles, beliefs and very humanity will be challenged. Through this, Christians will need to acknowledge God’s sovereignty in what are challenging times ahead.
I’m not being paranoid either.
Of Musk, men and robots.
Tesla CEO, Elon Musk has described Artificial Intelligence as the “greatest risk we face as a civilization”. Likewise, the late Prof Stephen Hawking stated that powerful AI could be “either the best or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity”.
Given humanity’s messy past experience with powerful technologies, I’m not overly optimistic.
So I’m laying out a survival guide for 21st Century Christians.
Now is the time to get our theology thought through and our Christian ethics solid.
We need to know for sure what is sacred and what is profane and where the biblical lines in the sand will need to be drawn.
If we can do this, we can assert our God-given dignity and protect the most vulnerable in the rise of the robots.
It’s ironic that in a technology-driven future we need to seriously hear the ancient revelation and wisdom of the Bible.
Listed here are the main areas that AI and the rise of the robots will impact most.
The rise of the robots and a Christian view of human worth.
The Bible states that humanity is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).
This is one of the greatest and most important statements ever written. I believe it’s the cornerstone of our civilization because it affirms the intrinsic value of every human life. Without that, morality and how we treat each other is defined by those with the power.
This ‘image of God’ truth will need to be asserted over again with the rise of the robots.
We, flesh and blood, thinking humans with all our biological impulses and creative endeavours are extraordinary.
We carry something of the divine DNA in all of us.
And we are extraordinary enough to even develop AI in the first place!
But could it be that we make ourselves obsolescent in the process?
Or even worse, destroy ourselves at the hands of our own creation?
That’s certainly the concern the United Nations has. They’ve opened the Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, to monitor developments in AI and its implications for development and global security.
Weaponry is already being developed by the major powers to utilise the strategic power of AI for warfare. Killing more people remotely, effectively and autonomously is a real possibility. Drone technology is currently just the beginning.
So we need clear moral guidance on how we limit the use of AI, not only in warfare but for civilian use too.
This guidance has to be based on the foundational truth of being created in the image of God.
The rise of the robots and a Christian view of work.
The biggest impact of AI and machine technology will be in the realm of work. We’re facing job losses on a massive scale.
Oxford University research quoted in a Bank of America Merrill Lynch Report, claims that 35% of all UK workers and 47% in the US have jobs that AI technology could replace.
It would be wrong to think it’s only low paying, service-based jobs at risk. It’s now middle-income manual labour jobs being threatened including those in professional services too.
Financial advisors could be replaced with sophisticated algorithms and medical diagnosis could be done more effectively by an AI-based programme. Will human doctors have a different role?
A report by McKinsey Global Institute finds that up to $9tn in global wage costs could be saved as computers take over knowledge-intensive tasks.
So will we, one day soon, have a generation of people that society doesn’t need?
There will be clear economic winners and losers as a result of the robot revolution.
This is where Christians must affirm a biblical view of human worth and work.
The Bible teaches that work is positive because it provides us with a role in life. In work, we provide for our own needs and those of our families. It’s there to further God’s Kingdom.
This is just to highlight a few of the benefits that the Bible teaches about work.
There will be big debates about how we need to ‘protect the human’. A robot tax is even being currently considered by some political parties.
Christians will need to assert the intrinsic value of work for society if machines are to serve humans rather than humans serve machines.
The rise of the robots and a Christian view of relationships.
The rise of the robots is threatening our interhuman relationships.
Developments in AI are creating robots that imitate human behaviour. Now, with the physical presence of a humanoid robot, it means in effect humans are creating a ‘person’ substitute.
You can guess how weird that could get.
Wherever there’s new technology, the sex industry is always there. So you won’t be surprised (even if disturbed) that sex robots are already on the market.
The sex tech industry is worth $30bn. And that means it’s big business.
Two-thirds of that market are heterosexual men. But there’s a disturbing trend as more robots are programmed to withhold ‘consent’ encouraging their abusive behaviour.
What needs to be our response?
Christians must speak out and assert the intrinsic dignity of flesh and blood human relationships.
The rise of the robots, AI and a biblical view of idolatry
Of all the weirder (if not disturbing) developments in AI, is a growing belief that it can cure all of humanity’s problems.
AI, it’s claimed, is the very thing that ushers in the techno-utopia of the future.
I know enough history to know that utopian visions, no matter how ideal or lofty, rarely turn out the way dreamers want it to. Fallen humanity always gets in the way and messes up the dream.
Technology brings good things for sure, but it also changes us in unforeseen ways and creates new problems.
The internet is the most significant development of the last few decades but do you wish you were less attached to your phone or wasted less time on your favourite social media platform?
Technology is a mixed blessing and will always create as many problems as solutions.
I have no doubt that AI and developments in robotics will be just the same.
But maybe you’re a true believer and technology is your god.
In fact, the claim of Anthony Levandowski is just that. Recent media reports have stated that a new religion called Way of the Future has the aim of creating an AI deity that will improve society. It will have such omniscience that people will worship it.
Well, the Bible has a view on that.
The oldest and most common sin to humanity is that of idolatry.
We just can’t seem to escape the trap of creating God substitutes, objects, desires, deities that we seek to control. But instead, they really control us.
It’s not surprising that a 21st Century ‘golden calf’ looks like the thing we fetishize most, technology.
Where then are the prophets of old? How will they cry their warnings?
How Christians can respond to the rise of the robots.
If the concerns raised here turn out to be justified, then AI may well be the greatest existential threat to humanity.
Can assert moral power over its use?
As Christians, we will need to pray for discernment and to be a helpful guide to shaping a common future. And that certainly includes future technology.
There’s no other way to protect God’s creation.
We must know what technology to accept, resist and what will bring blessing for all.
Jeremy – Not Only Sundays (About Us).
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