What a new AI system reveals about our hopes for technology

Open AI’s GPT-3 and remembering to recognize our Creator

August 3, 2020

It’s easy for anyone to get caught up in the hype surrounding new technologies. A new innovation often debuts with some helpful benefits and great new features, all of which wow us and lead us to believe that we are on the cusp of something truly revolutionary. Promises are made, and there are countless predictions about what is to come next. But soon after the press conferences fade and the hype dies down, we see these innovations for what they really are—helpful tools with innovative benefits that often do not live up to the hype surrounding their release but also reveal a number of potential misuses, abuses, or failures that we did not account for. Part of this is because we grow accustomed to innovation. But it also happens because we put a level of hope and desire on these technologies to usher in a new era of our world.

OpenAI recently announced their new language model called GPT-3, which is one of the most advanced AI systems in the world to date. This system is truly amazing. It is able to write prose, design and code basic HTML including various mini applications, and even engage in “deep” philosophical conversations about the nature of God and the universe with you. OpenAI released the technical documentation back in May. And according to Morning Brew, GPT-3 “has 175 billion parameters, a 117x increase over its predecessor’s 1.5 billion.” The system was trained on roughly a trillion words. In layman’s terms, it is pretty powerful. The company decided to allow a small group of select users to test out the system, and many shared their experiments online to show off the power of the new system. 

But nearly as soon as people were seeing the immense potential of the system, there came a wave of excitement about what this step forward in AI might mean. “Playing with GPT-3 feels like seeing the future,” a San Francisco-based developer tweeted about this tool. Some even questioned if we were that much closer to human level AI, also known as artificial general intelligence (AGI). However, the dream of a future AGI system is highly debated in computer science circles as well as in philosophy and religion.

Human level intelligence?

This isn’t the first time we have had such utopian dreams with AI. Some of the talk surrounding GPT-3 reminds me of the debut of Google Duplex back in 2018 at their annual developer conference, where Duplex was shown to book a haircut at your local salon or even a table at a restaurant all on its own. There have been countless seasons of grand visions for AI and where we are headed as a society, which ultimately died down over time as we adjusted to our expectations and saw these innovations as encouraging advances but ultimately not as life-altering as promised.

The reality about GPT-3 is that the model is extremely powerful and honestly a good bit of fun based on the users who have been working with it, but this system is no closer to ushering in the famed golden age of AI than any other innovation. This is simply because our current level of AI, known as narrow AI, while powerful and beneficial, is nowhere close to actually understanding the results or products it delivers, nor will algorithmic technology actually be able to achieve the level of general or human-like intelligence. This is because human beings are not machines, even if we often treat each other as mere objects to be manipulated and altered at will. Our minds and consciousness are not simply the result of some chemical reaction or organic algorithm, a view that has been popularized by many thinkers such as Yuval Noah Harari or Ray Kurzweil.

The depth of the human experience

This point has been highlighted by many prominent thought leaders over the years, such as renowned mathematics professor John Lennox of Oxford, the late philosopher Roger Scruton, and many computer scientists like Rosalind Pichard and Joanna Ng. This summer, I spent some time digging into Scruton’s works On Human Nature and The Soul of the World, in which he shows how a naturalistic understanding of the world fails to account for the depth of humanity in terms of our conscious experiences, emotions, moral agency, and even how we see each other as unique beings in this world. This reductionistic view of humanity is often behind the pursuit of the famed rise of AGI, because if there is nothing unique about humanity, then we should be able to recreate human intelligence and experience in a digital form.

Scruton describes one aspect of the uniqueness of humanity as the presence of subjective experiences, or the I/You paradigm, as one of the main differences between how subjects (like you and I) operate in a world of objects (like that of technology). This is one of the reasons we question the nature of ethics, our identity, and even the presence of God himself. Even the animal kingdom doesn’t experience the world as humanity does. We were created unique by God himself as his image bearers (Gen. 1:12-28).

There is a common misconception that our personhood can be derived simply from the material, which leads humanity down dangerous paths of believing that we are less valuable than we really are and overvaluing technology as if it somehow has the potential to become our equal or even surpass us in terms of utility or dignity.

Many may have missed how quickly people acknowledged that this GPT-3 model did not actually exhibit any of the signs of actual human level intelligence, even if the system could do things that were previously unbelievable for an AI system to do. But this longing for a system to create AGI reveals something a bit ironic about our longings and desires as humans that we shouldn’t miss. We often seek to humanize our creations, i.e., technologies, all the while dehumanizing ourselves. With our desire to be like God and create something in our image, we end up having to dumb ourselves down and treat ourselves as if we are merely machines rather than uniquely created image-bearers of the living God.

While many will continue to claim that faith and science are simply at odds with one another and that AGI development is just around the corner, Christians can remember and have hope that even with our wildest attempts or innovations, we are simply not able to change our own human nature nor create something like ourselves. As amazing new technological innovations continue to rise, we can step back and praise God for the incredible, talented people creating these tools rather than focus on some desire to create something on par or even greater than ourselves.

These innovations can be used for immense good, but we also must remember that they will be misused and possibly even become objects that we put our hopes in instead of God himself. We may trick ourselves into believing that it is possible to reach AGI or even create an AI system that can pass the famed Turing test, but we simply are not able to define, alter, or manipulate our humanity and personhood to feed these longings. We are God’s creatures and must never forget how we are called to live in this world—always recognizing our creatureliness and fixing our gaze on the Creator of all life and everything in the cosmos.

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