By / Jul 19

The Senate evaluates threats while Elon Musk unveils a company to research opportunities with artificial intelligence

Read the full article here.

By / Jun 19

“Southern Baptist messengers from around the country are back home after spending two days in New Orleans for their annual meeting last week. While there, they addressed topics such as America’s immigration crisis, the controversies surrounding so-called ‘gender transitions’ – and a biblical response to artificial intelligence.”

Read the full article here.

By / Sep 7

Elon Musk has become a household name in the last few years. From the rise and popularity of Tesla to the commercialization of space travel through SpaceX, Musk is a man on a mission to revolutionize our society. According to Forbes, Musk is worth over $86.1 billion dollars, making him one of the wealthiest and most recognizable names in the world. A few years ago, I read a fascinating biography of Musk by Ashlee Vance with a fitting subtitle of “Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.” Vance describes Musk’s pursuit well, but the question of whether his vision of the future is fantastic is heavily debated today.

A couple weeks back, Musk held a press conference with his lesser known startup company called Neuralink, which is an American neurotechnology company founded in July 2016. Neuralink specializes in the development of brain computer interfaces (BCI) that it hopes will be able to help cure neurological diseases such as memory loss, hearing loss, depression, and insomnia—which are noble desires—as well as potentially enhance healthy human beings with abilities ranging from typing with your thoughts, hailing a self-driving car, or even extending your memory.

It’s like “a Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires,” Musk said during the product demo which showcased the technology implanted over two months ago in the head of a pig named Gertrude. The Neuralink BCI is a device about the size of a quarter and is connected by thousands of electrodes tied into the brain. This device measures “the electrical signals emitted by neurons” because “the speed and patterns of those signals are ultimately a basis for movement, thoughts, and recall of memories.” Musk and the talented team at Neuralink hope this demo propels the technology to future trials on human beings. The company also announced that the device had received “breakthrough device status” from the FDA, which it hopes will speed up trials on humans. 

Regardless of the future of Neuralink’s BCI, technologists have long sought to push the envelope on innovation mainly focusing on the question of “Can this be done?” rather than “Should it be done?” This lack of deep ethical reflection on technology can be seen throughout our world today with issues ranging from bias to debates over digital privacy. This drive has helped produce some of the most beneficial technologies that we use each day but has also given rise to dangerous abuses and misuses of technology that has led to the dehumanization of our neighbors and, in this particular case, of ourselves.

Transhumanist dreams and human nature

Transhumanism is a concept that has been around for a number of years. Known as the father of transhumanism, Julian Huxley, brother of the famed writer Aldous Huxley, describes this concept in a 1957 essay saying “the human species can, if it wishes, transcend itself—not just sporadically, an individual here in one way, an individual there in another way, but in its entirely, as humanity.”

Musk has long sought to upgrade humanity claiming that “to avoid becoming like monkeys, humans must merge with machines.” This argument is based on a materialistic and in some cases an evolutionary worldview that concludes we must improve upon evolution’s current iteration of humanity or be left behind by the rise of sophisticated machines. Musk, along with many other transhumanists, seek to transcend our frail humanity through the use of technological upgrades or even ultimately by the uploading of minds and discarding of the body. 

This is often portrayed in the framework of a mind/body dualism, where the mind is seen as software and the body is seen as hardware. The real you is your mind, thoughts, and emotions, and your body is simply a container that can be altered at will or even discarded as desired. This is a form of Cartesian dualism. In this line of thinking, the mind and body are severed from one another as the mind is elevated above the body in terms of value and worth. Certain streams of transhumanism can aptly be described as a revival of the old Gnostic heresy that denigrates the body due to the belief that it is part of the evil material world and has no lasting value. 

According to this logic, our bodies can and should be upgraded in order to keep from going out of date or commission. In the face of this rising threat to human exceptionalism, Musk said during the press conference that the applications of this BCI technology could one day extend to “some kind of AI symbiosis where you have an AI extension of yourself.” 

A call for Christian ethical reflection

Transhumanist dreams of upgrading or going beyond our humanity reveal a massive assumption in the nature and essence of what it means to be human. Nick Bostrom, a leading transhumanist and author of the influential book Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, argues that our human nature is “a work in progress, a half-baked beginning that we can learn to remold in desirable ways.” But as author Nancy Pearcey points out, who gets to decide what is desirable, and does that actually align with the truth of who we are as image-bearers of God?

One of the great opportunities for the faith community in this age of innovation is to proclaim a richer and more cohesive worldview and ethical framework that holds high the dignity and respect of every human being, not based on their perceived worth or usefulness in our society but based on the transcendent reality of being created by God in his own likeness.

Outside of the more obvious ethical concerns surrounding this reductionist view of humanity as a disjointed mind and body—where the body is usually dimished—there is a growing concern about what these upgrades may do to our social order when some humans have implants or upgrades and others do not. The potential for inequality and designer humans are enormous. 

This technology would fundamentally change the nature of our relationships with one another because one group would be enhanced beyond typical humanity. We risk devaluing our fellow neighbors as they fail to live up to the ubiquitous ethical frameworks of utilitarianism. In an age fixated on human rights, this should lead to deep reflection in terms of the worth of all people, especially the least of these.

One of the great opportunities for the faith community in this age of innovation is to proclaim a richer and more cohesive worldview and ethical framework that holds high the dignity and respect of every human being, not based on their perceived worth or usefulness in our society but based on the transcendent reality of being created by God in his own likeness. Our status as human beings, as well as our human limitations, mean that our bodies are not something to be disparaged as if they don’t have the abilities that we need to flourish the way we would like in this life. If that were the case, then our embodied Savior was either not fully human (Phil. 2:7), or his resurrection body was incomplete (1 Cor. 15:12-19). And the Bible makes clear that neither are the case. 

The Christian view of human nature is fixed. We are embodied souls who, when belonging to Christ, will get the ultimate upgrade—redemption in the fullness of time by God’s power (1 Cor. 15:20-24). We have no need to keep up with the machines as Musk proclaims, because they will never catch us. We are fundamentally different and nothing, not even our own ingenuity or creations, will be able to change that.

By / Aug 17

Since 2017, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been persecuting Uyghur Muslims, a predominantly Turkic-speaking ethnic group, in a systemic campaign of oppression and persecution. The geographic scope of the CCP’s campaign against Uyghurs is global, but primarily restricted to Xinjiang, China’s western-most territory, where Uyghurs have lived for centuries. Under the guise of national security, the CCP is seeking to “pacify” the region with totalitarian tactics like pervasive surveillance, thought control, ideological reeducation, forced birth control, and compulsory labor. Life for many Uyghurs is a living nightmare. 

Surveillance state of the Chinese Communist Party

For Uyghurs living in Xinjiang, there is no such thing as a private life. The Chinese government has built a pervasive surveillance apparatus that not only records the movements of Uyghurs, but also tracks normal, routine actions. Something as innocent as entering one’s house through the back door, not socializing with neighbors, using WhatsApp, or changing phone numbers could trigger suspicion from China’s highly developed artificial intelligence algorithms

These algorithms intrude into the most sensitive and personal facets of the lives of Uyghurs, tracking their phones, cars, reproductive choices, and political views. The CCP often justifies its detention of Uyghurs on the grounds that they are engaged in extremist or terrorist activity, but the scope of China’s high-tech surveillance far outstrips the problem, resulting in arbitrary intimidation and arrests.

Reeducation camps for Uyghur people

The surveillance networks throughout Xinjiang flag “suspicious” Uyghurs for CCP authorities. Once Chinese police detain a Uyghur for questioning, they are often sent away for “political reeducation.” China has constructed upward of 1,000 internment camps for this purpose. Estimates vary, but experts posit that China has detained between 1 million and 3 million Muslims in these facilities. Aside from political indoctrination, physical and psychological abuse is commonplace throughout these camps, ranging from rape and torture to malnourishment and forced organ harvesting

The CCP also uses these camps to break apart Uyghur families. In cases where Uyghur husbands are sent off to camps, China has sent ethnically Han men to forcibly procreate with the wives who are left behind. In some cases, where both the mother and father are detained, the CCP has sent Uyghur children to government-run boarding schools where all communication with the outside world is strictly regulated.

Forced labor by the Chinese Communist Party

The CCP’s oppression of Uyghur Muslims does not stop at the reeducation. Beginning in 2018, reports began to emerge chronicling how China is exploits this group vocationally. China is the world’s largest cotton producer, and the vast majority of those exports come from Xinjiang. For many Uyghurs, the reeducation camps are a launching pad to compulsory labor in this industry. Whether in Xinjiang or throughout China, the CCP is relocating Uyghurs and exploiting them for free or underpaid labor. 

Because of China’s significant cotton exports, companies that operate in Xinjiang or purchase cotton or clothing from China run the risk of financially supporting the oppression of the Uyghur people. A March 2020 report entitled “Uyghurs for Sale” looks at the supply chains of over 80 international brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors and documents how Uyghur workers have been compelled to work in factories that are connected to the supply chains of those brands.

Forced sterilization of Uyghur women

China has a long history of imposing restrictive family planning on its citizens, and for years strictly enforced the infamous “one-child policy.” The restrictive birth policy has created a stark gender imbalance, and Chinese men today don’t have enough women to marry, resulting in the trafficking of brides and a larger sex trafficking industry. At the end of 2015, the Chinese government loosened its policies, allowing couples to legally conceive two children, and have encouraged Han Chinese to do so.

But while China has relaxed its family planning policy toward Han Chinese, the CCP has severely oppressed Uyghur women with draconian birth control measures. Uyghur women are subjected to forced pregnancy checks, medication that stops their menstrual period, forced abortions, and surgical sterilizations. 

One of the major reasons that Uyghur women are sent to the internment camps is for having too many children. China’s goal, it seems, is to eradicate future generations of Uyghurs by manipulating who can and can’t bear babies, and how many children a family can legally conceive.

How has the U.S. government responded?

In July 2020, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced that the United States government would apply “Global Magnitsky Sanctions” to top-ranking Chinese officials and a Chinese government entity for their roles in human rights abuses and religious freedom violations against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, passed by Congress in 2016, authorizes the executive branch to impose visa bans and other restrictions on any foreign person or entity “responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals in any foreign country seeking to expose illegal activity carried out by government officials, or to obtain, exercise, or promote human rights and freedoms.” 

In addition to administrative action, Congress has passed several important pieces of legislation to counter China morally. Recently, the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act was signed into law. The legislation imposes sanctions on foreign individuals and entities responsible for human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region and requires various reports on the topic.

Congress has likewise introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. This important bill would prohibit goods made with forced labor in Xinjiang or by entities using Uyghur labor forcibly transferred from Xinjian from entering the U.S. market. This legislation also instructs the U.S. government to impose sanctions against any foreign person who knowingly employs or utilizes the forced labor of Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang.

What can you do to help?

Speak up

Each one of us can use our voice to speak up on behalf of those who can’t speak up for themselves. You can share articles on the persecution of Uyghurs on social media. You can invite a Uyghur to share their story through Zoom to your community. You can urge the U.S. government to continue taking strong measures to address these injustices. Below are some educational resources to continue educating yourself and share with others.

Pray 

We ought to pray often for persecuted people around the world. Below are a few specific ways to pray.

  • Pray for the leaders of China, that they will end their oppression and persecution of their citizens, especially Christians, Uyghurs, and other ethnic and religious minorities. 
  • Pray for Christians in China, that they will be bold in proclaiming the good news of the gospel, and that they will stand up for those who are being persecuted.
  • Pray for world leaders, that they will have the courage and wisdom to counter China morally and hold the CCP accountable for their gross violations of human rights.

Christians should be on the frontlines of advocating for the dignity and human rights of all people. We cannot remain silent or complacent in the face of such injustices.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) routinely violates the basic human rights of the Chinese people. Their decades of abuse are well documented, including systematically monitoring and destroying Christian churches.

By / Aug 3

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.