Explainer: 5G networks, the United Kingdom, and China

February 3, 2020

It seems that everything about our lives is tied in some way to the internet and technology. Without these tools, our economy would be stifled, our national security would be weakened, and our communication with families and friends would be hampered. The internet drives so much of our lives.

Gone are the days of 14.4 and 28.8 kbit/s dial up internet of my youth. Our modern technologies have increasingly become dependent on mobile networks with blazing speeds. As our communities become more and more connected, we will need faster networks to power our current devices and those yet to come. 

Enter 5G networks. This technology has the potential to revolutionize everything about our lives, yet most of us know little to nothing about it.

What is a 5G network?

5G is a term used to categorize the 5th generation of wireless networks. 1G networks were designed for analog phone calls. 2G networks introduced digital voice communication. 3G was popularized around the introduction of smartphones like the iPhone 3G among others, which required the networks to carry data at speeds in order to power features like mobile web browsing and applications. 4G is the current standard for most cellular phones, including gigabit internet speeds often seen as 4G LTE service on your phone.

But with the rise of more complex devices and richer connectivity, 5G networks are beginning to be deployed around the world. As described by PC Magazine, 5G networks include “bigger channels (to speed up data), lower latency (to be more responsive), and the ability to connect a lot more devices at once (for sensors and smart devices).” 

There are three levels of 5G networks: low-band (which some U.S. carriers currently use), mid-band (up to 10 GHz), and high-band or millimeter-wave (20-100 GHz). High-band applications are very new, extremely fast, but have low distance.

Many current smart phones still run on 4G LTE networks in the U.S., with some able to use low- to mid-band 5G. It is expected that most cell phones debuting in 2020 will deploy all band 5G capabilities. 5G networks will be needed in order to support many future technologies such as the possibility of widespread deployment of driverless cars, surveillance tools, communication platforms, entertainment choices, drones, and continued automation through the use of robots and artificial intelligence.

Why is 5G so controversial?

Most of the news headlines that mention 5G networks focus on international relations and the race to 5G supremacy. China has an outsized influence in the discussions surrounding 5G because they have been able to broadly deploy 5G capable phones before the U.S.and other countries, with companies like Huawei taking the lead in building the necessary infrastructure and software.

The U.S. and China are locked in an intense technology race to become the predominant supplier of 5G networks worldwide, which has ramifications on issues such as national security and other technological innovations. These networks won’t just carry cat videos or the latest Netflix series, but also sensitive or classified information around the world between allies that needs to be kept in the right hands.

Christians stand for the vulnerable, oppressed, and voiceless wherever they happen to live because our God is a God of justice (Isaiah 1:17).

Just last week, Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, announced that they would strike a deal with the Chinese technology giant, Huawei, to build out the outer core of their coming 5G network. This was a surprising announcement given the pressure that the Trump administration has put on English leaders to ban Huawei, citing immense cyber security concerns with Huawei and the nature of the close relationship between the Chinese state and the company.

It is no secret that the U.S. and China are in a tight race for technological dominance and function differently in terms of the role of government in the free market. The Chinese party, under the leadership of Xi Jinping, has sought to use whatever means necessary to supercharge the Chinese market and industries. These subsidies and enlarged authority over private companies are a concern to many in the West because the Communist Party will exploit this public/private partnership at any time to ensure continued dominance over its own people and those throughout the world.

From the “Great Firewall of China,” which essentially has created a separate Chinese internet and blocks access to any Western influences, to the dangerously close relationship with Huawei and the potential privacy concerns for the world community, Chinese leadership knows that to maintain its edge in technological development they must stay ahead of the curve and help their companies grow. 

With Huawei’s growth worldwide in the rollout of 5G networks, many security experts warn that data will be compromised and accessed by the Chinese state at will. As national security expert and ERLC Research Fellow Klon Kitchen told the Washington Examiner, “The U.S. intelligence community will now (have to) make a determination on how this impacts intel sharing . . . But, to be sure, the British decision on Huawei fundamentally alters the relationship (between the US and the UK), and it hurts everyone's security.”

Why does this matter to Christians?

Much of the talk around 5G network build-out and deployment focuses on who is building the infrastructure and how it will be used. There are competing understandings of government and fundamental disagreements on the nature of human rights, as seen in the battle between Western democracies and authoritarian states such as China, Russia, and Iran. 

China already deploys many dehumanizing uses of technology in their own country, including their use of facial recognition in major cities as well as their systematic profiling and detainment of minority faith groups such as the Uhigur Muslims. Christians are rightfully concerned about the growing power that the Chinese Communist Party has over the Chinese people and the ways that they use their control to violate basic human dignity and rights. The Chinese have proven time and time again that they will stop at nothing to secure power and control for themselves as they seek to erode the dignity of anyone in their path.

We must confront these abuses of power and call for a recognition of basic human rights in China and across the world. All people are created in God’s image and that image is the basis for Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:39). Loving our neighbor in this context means standing up for their rights and seeking to suppress the spread of this authoritarian regime’s power in each of our daily lives. Christians stand for the vulnerable, oppressed, and voiceless wherever they happen to live because our God is a God of justice (Isaiah 1:17).

Left unchecked and unchallenged on the world scene, China’s government will continue to abuse these emerging technologies to dominate their citizens. The stakes are just too high for us to sit by idly. In a world where sensitive information and data is shared at lightning speeds on these digital networks, we must combat these authoritarian power grabs and stand up against injustice wherever it is found. Knowing the power these technologies hold for our societies and the risks involved in seemingly innocuous economic decisions—like those of the U.K.—is half the battle in defending the dignity of our neighbor across the street, and even across the pond.

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