A wisdom guide for giving technology gifts

December 20, 2018

This Christmas season is full of long to-do lists, activities, shopping, spending time with family and friends, and giving gifts. Technology and gadgets are often at the top of wish lists for both the young and old. I grew up surrounded by technology and like to include the latest gizmos at the top of my Christmas list, too.  

As you prepare to shop for technology-related gifts, or if you’ve already finished your shopping list, I encourage you to think about how these gifts might be best used in ways that honor the Lord and love your neighbor (Matt. 22:37-39). So, instead of being a product-by-product list of the hottest gadgets this season, this article is more of a guide for how these technologies can be used with wisdom.

1. Smart home devices

Powered by artificial intelligence and forms of automation, smart home devices are extremely popular as gifts this season. These devices make up the Internet of Things (IoT) and help automate various functions in your home. From Google Home, Amazon Alexa, and Apple Siri to Nest thermostats, August locks, and Abode alarm systems, the IoT is growing each day as our homes become more connected. My family has found these tools extremely beneficial to our daily lives. For example, we have our porch lights and heating monitored and automated to our liking.  

The driving factor behind these tools are various sensors that collect random bits of data from your home and environment to automate tasks. I caution you to read about the types of data they collect and how it’s stored before you turn your home from a “dumb” one to a “smart” one. Even popular smart assistants have an array of microphones always “listening” in order to be ready at your call. And they usually collect your questions and commands in a database in order to learn from them to make your future conversations more pleasant and beneficial. So, before you ask your new assistant to change the temperature, know that you are providing these systems massive amounts of data.

2. Virtual reality headsets

Some of the hottest gadgets this year are virtual reality headsets, and for good reason. They are extremely immersive and offer users an array of virtual tools including 360-degree movies and games, virtual worlds, and news. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg bought the upstart and popular VR headset manufacturer Oculus just a few years back and proclaimed their goal to see one billion people in VR. To understand more about virtual reality and how to use it wisely, you can read my previous article here.

Many VR headsets and devices have one glaring issue, though—a number of them do not have any sort of parental controls that allow parents to monitor screen time, inappropriate content, or what is downloaded to the device. A quick search online will reveal thousands of parents that were shocked to find their teenagers engrossed in pornography using their VR headsets. Parents should know how this technology functions before handing them to their kids on Christmas morning. I think the wisest thing to do is to make these kind of tools a family gift so that their immersive nature will not lead to isolation.

3. Gaming systems

For as long as they have been around, gaming systems have topped the holiday gift charts. They are a ton of fun. While some systems like the Sony Playstation are starting to include VR experiences, most systems are still being used on computer and TV screens, and are gaining popularity on tablet devices and mobile phones. I encourage parents to keep two things in mind as they plan to purchase these systems for their families.

First, know what games your family is playing. You’ll probably want to play alongside them to know what they are being exposed to. Many games might leave you uncomfortable at the level of violence and bloodshed, but you will also get a glimpse into what stories your children are being told about the world and about themselves. This is an opportunity for you to learn alongside your kids and make memories together.  

Second, beware of peer-to-peer live audio gaming. I had a parent tell me about how his family decided to ban all two-way communication on their consoles because of the language, bullying, and even sexual exploitation that can occur through these open audio channels. So, before you set your child up with a new gaming system, evaluate how these games are influencing their young minds.

4. Tablets, phones, and computers

There are nearly 2.5 billion smartphones in use worldwide, and that number will continue to grow this holiday season. The impact of these devices is just starting to be seen. For an in-depth look at the effects of screens, especially on children, make sure to check out Jean Twenge’s book iGen, where she explores some of the positive and negative effects these devices are having on the generation that has never known a day without them. My colleague Julie Masson has thought about how to protect your kids online using these devices. Her advice about what apps to avoid and how to monitor what your children see online is invaluable.  

This holiday season, I encourage you to be mindful about the time that your family spends on these devices. It is easy to be physically in the room with others but not be present. Many of these tools, including all Apple iOS devices, now have a screen time feature where you can see how long you spend on them, where you spend it, and what you are seeing. When this feature first debuted with a recent update, I was shocked and convicted at the amount of time I spent looking at my phone each day and the little I had to show for all of that time.  

We should be aware of the stronghold these devices can have over our lives, but we shouldn’t forget to enjoy these good gifts that God has given us. They allow us to have more information available at our fingertips than the entire world had available just a few decades prior.

As you give gifts and open your own this Christmas, commit to memory the simple commands that God has given us to navigate this life: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” These words can help guide us as we seek to love God and our neighbors through the ways that we engage with the tech gifts under the tree. These gadgets are indeed tools that we can use in ways that honor God, but only if we are intentional to use them with wisdom.

Jason Thacker

Jason Thacker serves as a research fellow focusing on Christian ethics, human dignity, public theology, and technology. He also leads the ERLC Research Institute. He is the author or editor of several books including The Age of AI, Following Jesus in a Digital Age, and The Digital Public Square. In addition to his … 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