4 technology issues to watch out for in 2020

January 13, 2020

The new year has already been a blur in many ways. From an international crisis to the continued focus on the presidential election this fall, 2020 has the potential to be a history-making year. But another set of stories that should capture our attention are those focused on the continued rise of technology and the influence it exerts on our daily lives. These tools have an outsized influence on how we communicate with one another, the type and quality of information we receive, and even how our economy and governments function.

At the beginning of what seems to be another consequential year, it is wise to be reminded of some of the most important technology stories and how they are shaping our public square. While we aren’t able to predict some of the most important technological developments that are to come, here are four major technology issues that each of us need to be aware of as we seek to honor God and love our neighbor in 2020.

Ongoing privacy debates and possible legislation

January 1 brought about the initial enforcement of the California Consumer Privacy Act, a first-of-its-kind piece of privacy legislation in the United States. Without a federal privacy law, and by nature of being the first major privacy legislation to be enacted in the states, this California law is the defacto law of the land. While the CCPA was signed into law in 2018, it took effect this year, and the state’s Attorney General Becerra is set to begin full enforcement on July 1. This law requires companies to meet certain transparency and openness standards about the data collected on each of us by their services every day.

Many privacy advocates are not satisfied with the current version of the law and hope to enact stronger protections and regulations in the near future, while others argue that the CCPA is an overly broad and burdensome regulation that will dampen innovation and investment in new technologies. Regardless of its merit or shortsightedness, CCPA will likely serve as a test case for other state’s privacy regulations and may force the hands of many in Congress to enact a federal law. Debate continues in Washington, D.C., on the possibility of a federal law and whether or not it should override the Golden State’s regulation.

Outside of privacy law, 2020 has the potential to be a big year in digital privacy rights with a renewed interest in the type of data companies collect on the public and how it is used. This year has already started off with an FTC settlement over protecting the privacy of children who use Youtube as well, so expect to see further legislation and issues arise from how our children use technology in their daily lives in light of the rise of online abuse and consumption. 

Ethics and artificial intelligence

Whether you realize it or not, you interact with and use artificial intelligence nearly every moment of the day. From your social media feeds and online activity to your banking and our national security, AI drives much of our society, especially most modern technological innovations. But as AI has taken off in our society and around the world, there are many pressing ethical and social issues surrounding how this technology is developed, maintained, and implemented in our daily lives. Questions abound around the impact of AI on our work, families, and even our standing in the world regarding international crises and human rights.

On Jan. 8, the United States unveiled a new set of regulations and guidelines for the development and use of artificial intelligence. The guidelines released by the Trump administration seek to provide a framework for American values that many hope to set the stage for international cooperation. Just last April, ERLC released a set of AI principles to help equip the Church to think wisely about the rise of AI in our society and how best to maintain an ethic of human dignity with these powerful technologies.

Throughout 2020, there will undoubtedly be thorny ethical issues surrounding AI in our daily lives, such as in medical diagnosis, drone and weapon technology, and even in bias and discrimination cases. In March 2020, my new book, The Age of AI, will release with Zondervan, and I hope it will help the Church to engage these tough ethical and moral issues with the clarity of God’s Word.

Deepfakes and fake news

A deepfake is a video of someone saying and maybe even doing things that they never did in reality. These fake videos are created on computers using AI technology that allows the creator to use existing footage of an individual. These videos can be created by anyone who has access to the right computers, software, and knowledge. They are incredibly realistic and pose a real threat to society.

As we began the year, Facebook announced that it would be banning these videos from its platform as a lead-up to the 2020 presidential election. While these videos haven’t been used in extremely malicious ways as of yet, there are bound to be fake videos developed soon in order to sway public opinion or even to disrupt our society. While lawmakers scramble to provide some sort of legislation to stop these fake videos, many technology companies are trying to develop deepfake detection software to stop them from being shared on social media and video-hosting platforms.

While major news events may seem bleak as the nations continue to rage, Chrisitans have hope knowing that nothing in this world is outside of God’s control and guiding hand.

Deepfakes are just another example of how fake news is on the rise in our society and how Christians need to think wisely about the information we receive, what we share online, and how we seek the good of our neighbors and society in the digital age.

International authoritarian abuses

Behind many of the international stories as of late has been the use and abuse of technology around the world by nations like China, Russia, and Iran. Late in 2019, the Iranian regime shut down internet connectivity to nearly every citizen of the country, essentially cutting the nation off from the rest of the world. This news was followed by the revelation that Russia is attempting a similar shutdown later this spring. All the while, the Chinese regime is constantly in the news regarding its oppression of religious minorities and the lack of basic freedoms its citizens have because of the widespread use of facial recognition and DNA facial mapping technologies.

2020 will likely bring about the exposure of many more travesties related to how technology is used to demean, demoralize, and debase other human beings created in the image of God. We should keep our attention focused on how nations like China continue to wield enormous power over their economic and technology sectors as they continue to restrict free expression and human rights.

It should be no surprise that technology plays such a large role in society and our daily lives. While major news events may seem bleak as the nations continue to rage, Chrisitans have hope knowing that nothing in this world is outside of God’s control and guiding hand. As we engage some of the most pressing issues of our day, especially in regards to the enormous power technology has on each of us, we must remember that we already know the end of the story. We need not fear the unknown because we know the Author and Creator of all (Isa. 43:1).

Jason Thacker

Jason Thacker serves as senior fellow focusing on Christian ethics, human dignity, public theology, and technology. He also leads the ERLC Research Institute. In addition to his work at the ERLC, he serves as assistant professor of philosophy and ethics at Boyce College in Louisville Kentucky. He is the author … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24