Article

What a Google commercial teaches us about the purpose of technology

Feb 10, 2020

Search bars are a technological marvel. Through them, we can search the limits of the world. We can see the seven wonders or learn of breaking news as it is happening. We can find more information in seconds than most people in human history had access to in their lifetimes. But search bars also expose some of our most personal and intimate moments, as you search for how to overcome infertility or even cancer. During the Super Bowl, Google ran one of the most powerful ads about the use of technology in a long time. 

In the commercial, a man asks his Google Assistant to remember a number of details about his wife and their marriage as he begins to lose his memory due to Alzheimer's. He searches for the places she loved to visit and even for anniversary photos of them from his photo library. Behind the emotion of this man’s story is the technology powering this tool. Google was using this commercial to show off the abilities of their Assistant platform, which is driven by artificial intelligence (AI). Google reminds us that we use AI each day to do many convenient tasks using our smartphones, tablets, smart speakers, and computers. Through this use of Google Assistant, we see how AI can be harnessed to remind us of what makes us human and the greater purpose of technology. 

What makes us human

So much of the hype surrounding AI flows from the ability of this technology to do things typically reserved for humans. Since the beginning of time, our technologies have only been able to aid us in our work and lives. But with the advent of modern AI systems, some tend to believe that today’s technologies are beginning to cross a line between a tool and something entirely different. This is especially true with smart assistants like Google Assistant, Alexa, and Siri.

Before the advent of AI systems used in voice recognition and natural language processing, we couldn’t communicate with our creations like we would another human being. While we can use our voices to interact with animals, we couldn’t have an actual conversation with anything else. But, we can now interact with our tools—powered by AI—as if they are human beings, which naturally begins to blur the line between us and “them.”

Amidst much of the hype about robots leaving us jobless or deciding to revolt against us, our creations will never be able to replace us because they were never created to be on par with us as God’s image-bearers. Our place in creation was secured by the Creator of the cosmos and can’t be changed by the advent of any technology. We are created higher and more valuable than the rest of creation as the only ones made in his image (Gen 1:26-28). 

Instead of replacing us, the Loretta commercial reminds us that technology can be designed and used in such a way that serves us, allowing us to connect with and cherish others created in God's image. I can’t tell you how many times I have added something to my Evernote notebooks so that I don't forget. Whether it is a note for work or even my wife’s shoe size for future gifts, this form of technology aids me by allowing me to extend my physical memory and live a more productive life. It serves me as I seek to become more like how God created me to be in the midst of a fallen world. 

The goal and purpose of all technological innovation is to serve us as we serve the Creator of the universe.

This is exactly what the man was doing throughout the commercial; he was asking his Google Assistant to remember things for him because of the brokenness that he was experiencing in his body. This is not the way that that world was meant to be, ravaged by sin, disease, and death. But by utilizing various technologies like AI, we can be active agents of God who reflect his image in us as we seek to roll back the effects of the fall in our world. While we will never ameliorate the effects of sin and disease, we reflect God’s imprint on us as we use the tools around us to love him and to love our neighbor.

The greater purpose of technology

Often in our consumerist and materialist world, we define humanity down by acting as if the value of our neighbors is based on their contributions to society rather than the God they were made to image. We assign someone’s value and dignity based on what they do or how they can help us. This is antithetical to the biblical message of dignity and an idea that we must reject. Regardless of our perceived value of others or their contributions to the greater good, each human being is created in God’s image and has infinite value and worth.

This was the underlying message of the Google commercial that brought tears to our eyes. In the ad, we see a man created in God’s image ravished by a disease that not only ruins our bodies but also our minds. He has no real contribution to his family or society. He likely would be seen as a drain on resources or even a burden to be carried, rather than a man fashioned by God. The AI in this commercial became a tool that this man used to remind himself of the little details of life and aid his calling as a husband and father. This ad serves as a reminder to all of us that technology is meant to amplify our lives rather than overshadow them.

The goal and purpose of all technological innovation is to serve us as we serve the Creator of the universe. It is easy to get that pattern flipped by forgetting God and then letting technology rule over us. It is tempting to cut ourselves off from the world around us for a few more minutes of breaking news on Twitter or construe our lives in such a way that the Instagram algorithms gains us more likes. It is easy to mold our lives around our technologies rather than mold our use and development of technology to our lives and the goal of human flourishing for all. 

I believe, as Christians, we are called to reflect the image of God in everything we do. For some, this might mean considering more carefully how our work developing technology is aiding the goal of human flourishing. For others, it will mean re-evaluating the ways we use these tools in our daily lives. Whether we are tempted to forget the purpose of technology in our lives because of the powerful ways we can use it today or maybe even because a disease is ravishing our minds, let's never forget whose image we are fashioned after and the life that he calls us to pursue.

Jason Thacker

Jason Thacker serves as creative director and associate research fellow at ERLC. In his role as creative director, he oversees all creative projects including design, video, web, audio, and print media.  His new book, The Age of AI: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity,... Read More