Things to Know about Artificial Intelligence

Do thoughts about artificial intelligence (AI) bring excitement or fear? Anticipation or dread? And how should we think about this as Christians? If these questions resonate with you, then you will want to check out the videos of RTB’s recent, three-session workshop, Artificial Intelligence: Ethics, Impact, and Christianity

John Lennox started the workshop with an overview of AI. His talk discussed the difference between narrow AI and general AI. Narrow AI learns to do a specific task or group of tasks where general AI has the capacity to learn across a broad spectrum of fields or skills. Although the latter seems relegated to the distant future, the former already exists and is becoming pervasive. As narrow AI continues to grow, we must recognize that the technology brings potential for good, but also harm. One key takeaway from Lennox’s session is the notion that many people are looking to AI to save humans from the perils that plague us, including death. However, Lennox notes that salvation has already been accomplished by Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.

Next, Jason Thacker spoke in his area of specialty, the ethical concerns surrounding technology. And AI certainly raises a plethora of them. The pursuit of general AI raises the question of what it means to be human—which Scripture answers directly by stating that we alone are the bearers of God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27)A second thing to consider as we pursue narrow AI is how to use it. We’ll be able to do facial recognition, automate various jobs, and develop autonomous weaponry. Although AI is a powerful tool, we can choose to use it for good or evil. Thacker wrestles with this question in the context of our postmodern society where ethics are difficult to determine and seem to vary from person to person. 

J. P. Moreland concluded the workshop by exploring the nature of intelligence and consciousness. The terms “weak AI” and “strong AI” are often used as synonyms for narrow and general AI. Moreland highlights one subtle but important difference between strong and general AI. Where general AI refers to an AI that has the capacity to learn across a broad spectrum of fields or skills, strong AI possesses an awareness of its ability to learn rather than just the ability to mimic human learning. Moreland then proceeds to provide a philosophical framework for understanding strong AI dubbed “machine functionalism.” At the basis of any naturalistic philosophy of mind or intelligence, machine functionalism holds that consciousness ultimately reduces to some arrangement of matter and the interactions between that matter. As a consequence, machine functionalism will inevitably diminish our view of consciousness.

Each session consistof an overview talk, followed by two panelists asking questions raised during the talk. Overall, the workshop provides a broad framework Christians can use to engage this challenging and exciting area of research. In my assessment, the pursuit of AI is inevitable. More importantly, if we are to use this powerful tool for good while mitigating the potential harm, we need to demonstrate the truthfulness of Christianity and lead the way in providing ethical guidance for all.