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Explainer: Evangelical leaders issue statement on artificial intelligence

Apr 12, 2019

What just happened?

On Thursday, ERLC hosted an event in Washington, D.C. to unveil a new statement on artificial intelligence. The statement is designed to equip the church with an ethical framework for thinking about artificial intelligence and has been signed by more than 60 leaders and experts across the fields of economics, public policy, business, technology, ethics, biblical theology, and medicine.

“There are many heated debates in Washington, many of them important,” said ERLC President Russell Moore. “But no issues keep me awake at night like those surrounding technology and artificial intelligence. The implications artificial intelligence will have for our future are vast.”

“It is critical that the church be proactive in understanding AI,” added Moore. “It’s also critical that the church insist AI be used it ways consistent with the truth that all people possess dignity and worth, created as they are in the image of God. This statement does just that, and much more. I’m honored to be a part of this important conversation and join these outstanding leaders on this excellent statement.”

What is artificial intelligence?

‘Artificial Intelligence’ (AI) is a general term that refers to machines that exhibits behavior or perform tasks that are characteristic of human intelligence, such as learning, planning, problem solving, recognizing objects, or understanding languages. 

The two general categories of AI are general and narrow. General AI—which does not currently exist—is the capability of a machine to perform many or all of the intellectual tasks a human can do. Narrow AI is the capability of a machine to perform some intellectual tasks a human can do using such processes as neural networks, machine learning, or deep learning.

One of the most common types of AI involves “machine learning,” the science of getting computers to learn and act like humans do, and improve their learning over time in autonomous fashion, by feeding them data and information in the form of observations and real-world interactions. (While all machine learning is AI, not all AI involves machine learning.) Self-driving cars are an example of using machine learning to teach machines how to perform complex functions that once required the direct applications of human intelligence.

What does ethics have to do with artificial intelligence?

Because machines are increasingly capable of exhibiting behaviors characteristic of human intelligence, there is a need to ensure that moral considerations are taken both in the planning and programming of AI and in the behavior of artificial moral agents (AMAs).

For example, self-driving cars—a type of AMA—need to be programmed for how they should respond to scenarios where collisions are highly likely or unavoidable. Should self-driving vehicles be programmed to always minimize the number of deaths? Should they be programmed to prioritize the lives of their passengers?

Such questions are part of the moral framework that must be decided on by humans. Christians should therefore take the lead in deciding how such moral issues will be addressed. As the declaration states, “We desire to equip the church to proactively engage the field of AI, rather than responding to these issues after they have already affected our communities.”

What does the Statement of Principles include?

The statement includes a preamble and 12 articles, each including an affirmation and denial and relevant Scriptures that address the specific principle. Here are the 12 articles and a highlight from each:

Article 1: Image of God — “We affirm that God created each human being in His image . . . 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 . . . ”

Article 2: AI as Technology — “We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. . . . We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral.”

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity — “We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making . . . We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created.”

Article 4: Medical Use — “We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace . . . We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ.”

Article 5: Bias — ”We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias . . . We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people.”

Article 6: Sexuality — ”We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality . . . We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI . . .”

Article 7: Work — “We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings . . . We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone.”

Article 8: Data & Privacy — “We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights . . . 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.”

Article 9: Security — “We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation . . . 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.”

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. . . . We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI.”

Article 11: Public Policy — ”We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings . . . We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. ”

Article 12: The Future of AI — ”We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand . . . 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.”

Who has signed the statement?

The statement has been signed by over 60 evangelical leaders, including pastors (Bart Barber, Matt Chandler, Ray Ortlund, Jimmy Scroggins, et al.), seminary professors (David S. Dockery, Wayne Grudem, Michael Horton, Katie McCoy, Richard Mouw et al.), ethicists (Vincent Bacote, Daniel R. Heimbach, Ken Magnuson, C. Ben Mitchell, et al.), and the current and former heads of the Southern Baptist Convention (J.D. Greear, Ronnie Floyd, Johnny Hunt, Fred Luter, and James Merritt).

Joe Carter

Joe Carter has an MBA from Marymount University and is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus. He and his wife, Misty, have one daughter. Read More