What Google knows about being human

December 29, 2017

In our digital age, one thing that seems to mark the conclusion of every year is the abundance of “best of” lists making the rounds on the internet. These lists chronicle everything from the best books of the year, to the best movies, songs, cars, employers and even viral videos. As more-than-casual observers of culture, we find these lists fascinating and insightful because of the picture they offer us of the world we live in. And from these lists, we can discern not only the kinds of things that capture people’s attention, but also why. So we were particularly intrigued when we stumbled upon Google’s version of the year-end recap of top search results.

Google is ubiquitous in our culture. Being a search engine, an internet provider, ad manager, email service, and so much more, Google is one of the preeminent tech giants whose influence is seen throughout most sectors of our society. For millions of people across the globe–ourselves included–the tech juggernaut is fully integrated into our everyday lives in ways we are not even conscience of, seemingly serving as an extension of our own minds. By examining the trends and patterns revealed in internet searches during 2017, Google discovered an interesting result: this year, the world asked “how?” And to showcase these results, Google put together a video.


Our questions ranged from the humorous to the urgent, and from the practical to the existential. Many of our questions came in response to tragedy. In 2017, the world witnessed dozens of devastating natural disasters. We watched as Mexico suffered an earthquake that killed nearly 400 people and injured thousands; we watched as historic wildfires raged across California; and, we watched as multiple hurricanes inflicted horrible damage upon Texas, Florida and the Caribbean including Puerto Rico. Even more, we once again witnessed unspeakable horror as we saw nearly 100 people either injured or killed during mass shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs. In response to these and other disasters, Google recorded an outpouring of compassion. Millions of people turned to Google to find out how to help. But that wasn’t the only response. In addition to compassion, we also revealed our fears and frailty, asking how we might protect ourselves from experiencing the very same things.

We also asked practical questions: how to be a better parent, how to run for public office, how to view the solar eclipse. And each of these things tell us something too. We see that in an ever-changing world, some things stay the same. Parents still want to do right by their kids, offering them the kind of love, support, and guidance needed for them to make their way in the world. Record searches inquiring how to run for office or how to make a protest sign indicate that in the midst of a year of political chaos and turmoil, many people are motivated to do more than just talk or stand on the sideline. And the fact that millions sought to view the eclipse reminds us that even though nature can wreak havoc through its destructive power, it can also stun us with its remarkable beauty.

Some of the questions we asked were even more serious. We asked about the threat of nuclear war, about immigration and caring for refugees, and about how to be a strong woman. These and similar questions are clear reminders of the brokenness of our world. Throughout 2017, the world has watched with fear each time North Korea ratched up tensions in the Pacific by testing another intercontinental ballistic missile. Likewise, we have watched for years, the humanitarian crisis in Syria, as refugees are driven from their homes in the wake of a brutal civil war that continues to drag on, all the while grappling with our nation’s own treatment of immigrants. And as we close the book on 2017, we do so under the shadow of the #MeToo movement, where week by week new accusations are brought forth revealing the contemptible and predatory culture that has for too long permeated so many of our country’s most significant institutions. All of which shows us the reality that women are often not afforded the honor, dignity, and respect that they deserve as beings created in the image of God.

A window to our souls

It might come as a shock to many that companies like Google keep a record of our internet searches. We understand why the idea is off-putting. In many ways, our search histories provide a window into our souls. In a world where so many things are artificial, our Google searches can show us something real. As Russell Moore recently remarked, “Google knows who we are, sometimes better than we know ourselves.” He adds, “people don’t like to admit certain things about themselves, or to themselves. But they’ll tell Google.” And this is true. Though we can’t help doing it with others, we don’t filter or mask the questions we ask Google. Perhaps this is because we feel secure in the relative anonymity of the internet. But regardless, these search results tells us a great deal about both our greatest fears and desires.

Through these results, we see some basic human traits: People are fearful, so we seek to mitigate disaster and avoid danger. People are compassionate, so we seek to help those in need. People are joyful, so we seek out opportunities to live life to its fullest and to make the world a better place. People are fun, so we ask questions about how to become superheroes. But the biggest thing that these trends reveal is that people are seeking answers because we all understand at our core that we are not in control of our lives or the things around us. We are not God.

The answer the world needs

As Christians, we need to have answers to some of these questions that people are asking. We need to be the ones who lead the way in responding to tragedies, loving our neighbors, equipping parents, protecting women, and so much more. But beyond all of that, we need to be the ones pointing to the answer to the fears behind many of these questions. In a world full of danger ranging from nuclear war to mass shootings to natural disasters, we need to be the ones pointing to the Son of Man. Jesus is the only one who has the answers. And Jesus is the only one who holds the power to make an end of our suffering and bring us peace.

As we start 2018, the world is asking perhaps the most important question, “How to move forward?” The church has the answer that we all are searching for. As God restores this fallen world, we must be the signpost pointing forward to the day when Christ will make all things new. Jesus is the true and lasting hope the world needs.

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

Josh Wester

Joshua B. Wester is the lead pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. Read More by this Author

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