Is technology changing how we relate to our parents?

October 2, 2017

Remember when you needed your parents for so much? We used to ask our parents everything. How to build this volcano for a science project or make a solar system out of coat hangers and styrofoam. I remember my dad helping me build that infamous volcano and my mom helping me cook homemade french fries for a French class project.

You have those stories too. Maybe it’s your dad showing you how to cut the grass or change the oil in your car. Maybe it’s your mom helping you quiet your own newborn child. Maybe it’s figuring out what mortgage insurance is or how to read the stock market. When we have questions, we ask our parents or those older than us. It shows dependence on them. It shows trust. It opens the door for another bonding moment or brief time for them to be, you know, our parents and mentors. It keeps the relationship going. At least that’s how it used to be.

Technology: Our new parent

Thanks to the internet and our handheld devices, we don’t ask our parents much these days. I mean, why would we? We have everything at our fingertips. Every dinner we could possibly want to make is featured on Facebook, thanks to those fast-speed short videos on how to make pizza cake or Oreo churros.

Yet, those of us who grew up without the prevalence of technology remember what it was like at college, when we got married, or when we became a parent. We usually picked up the phone because we needed to ask our moms or dads a question, like how to make the famous family macaroni and cheese. And sometimes we just wanted to call them and talk.

We need to depend less on our phones and more on each other.

A few months ago, my wife and I were discussing the issue of Watergate. To be completely honest, neither of us could remember entirely what it all was about. I knew Nixon was involved and that from the movie’s narrative, apparently Forrest Gump was the one who called down to the front desk of the hotel. We both were dumbfounded. How did we not know this? As one of us picked up the phone to dial home, the other picked up the phone for another reason: Google. Why don’t we just search for it?

We were both glad we chose the phone for what it used to be used for: calling people. We called home and got to have a conversation where we asked my mom and stepdad what Watergate was all about. They told us. We laughed about the fact that none of us could remember who took over the presidency after Nixon. All the good things of a phone call home to your parents.

But I am afraid the internet and technology are robbing us of conversations with our parents, cheapening our relationships with them. We don’t call and ask questions much because we don’t need to ask anyone anything. We can just ask Siri or call out anywhere in the house to Alexa. These are vital conversations that, before technology and Wikipedia, took place between mother/daughter and father/son, between grandparents and aunts and uncles, those older and wiser. For parents, I imagine it’s not easy to know you’re being replaced by a device that knows more than you and is easier to consult during our busy schedules.

More than knowledge & busy schedules

Sure, it might be easier to ask your device something or search for it on the web. There is a greater chance you’ll find the right answer the first try, compared to asking your mom or dad. Because frankly, your parents don’t have fields of data servers all over the world to pull information from in a millisecond. But are we losing something more personal, more important to who we are, by chasing efficiency and accuracy over relational investment?

We need to make room for those conversations. We need to depend less on our phones and more on each other. Siri may know what time it is in China or how many windows are on the Empire State building, but it doesn’t know how to comfort us when we’re lonely or encourage us when our job is tough. It doesn’t have the years of investment our parents do.

And we need to be less about accuracy and efficiency and more about intimacy and investment. We need to close out the Safari app, open up the keypad, and start letting our parents be parents again. We need human interaction, and we need to fight against losing our parents to the ongoing surge in technological advance.

There’s a passage in Deuteronomy that describes God bringing Israel over the Jordan River, stopping the river, and letting them pass by on dry ground. When they get through, the Lord commands them to build an altar of remembrance to commemorate all the Lord had done for them. He said, in a sense, put this memorial here because in the future your children are going to ask what the stones mean and you are going to tell them what I did for them and for you.

When your children ask their fathers in times to come, What do these stones mean? Then you shall let your children know, Israel eased over this Jordan on dry ground. For the lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the and of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.

Unlike our parents, Siri can’t tell us about God’s grace and mercy and how he’s acted wonderfully for his people. It’s not just about clay volcanoes and baking soda, it’s about God’s faithfulness and his love for us, his children. As children, we need to know these things.

So, let’s reach out to our parents and mentors with our questions. And let’s teach our children the value of doing the same. Let’s keep our phones close, not to search and surf, but to call and invest and talk and cultivate these vital, God-ordained relationships.

Jonathan C. Edwards

Jonathan C. Edwards (M.Div, Th.M) is the Director of Curriculum for Docent Research Group where he also serves as a lead writer. He is the author of Left: The Struggle to Make Sense of Life When a Parent Leaves. He and his wife Katherine live in Durham, N.C., where he is … 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