During a summer school held in the mathematics department of Dartmouth University in 1956, the term “Artificial Intelligence” (AI) was born. At that time AI was articulated quite simply as: “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines.”1
Since then, it has grown to be a lot more, and its potential for good is astonishing.
The AI Revolution
Recently Nature published a paper detailing the groundbreaking results of a study that used an electronic implant, aided by AI, to bypass the spinal cord injuries of a paralyzed man—essentially bridging the communication between his brain and spinal cord and allowing him to walk again.2 The merits of AI in this medical context are outstanding.
But that, perhaps, is only the beginning of the good AI can do.
In recent times the world of AI has seen an enormous surge of global interest across a myriad of domains. This has come with the almost ubiquitous adoption of certain natural language processing technologies, such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which provide the end user a more seamless and “natural” human-machine conversational interaction when undertaking tasks and answering our questions, however far-flung they may be.
Although AI appears to provide an almost limitless array of possibilities in aiding human life, are there also dangers of its use that we need to be aware of? Unquestionably, there are, and there’s one story in the Bible that could serve as an example of that potential evil.
Distract and Control
The interaction between Jesus and the demonic agencies during their encounter on the shore of Gadarenes is insightful (see Luke 8:26-39). After recognizing the deity of Jesus (verse 28), the demons make a purposeful but seemingly unusual request to be cast into a herd of pigs. When the request is granted, great disruption unfolds.
Imagine the pandemonium that occurred when a herd of demon-possessed pigs, squealing and howling, ran to their deaths over the cliffs. It was a cunning tactic to distract from the goodness of God’s healing work and to elicit in the people fear about Jesus. Indeed, Scripture tells us that they “were seized with great fear” (verse 37).
Ellen White makes plain Satan’s modus operandi: “Satan’s influence is constantly exerted upon men to distract the senses, control the mind for evil.”3
The point? Whatever good AI can do, and has done, and no doubt will do, it also provides yet another formidable tool kit that Satan can use to exert his influence over humanity.
Take, for example, the prevalence of deep fakes, realistic yet fake images and videos that are created through the use of a form of AI called “deep learning.” Recent research has found that people struggle to distinguish deep fakes from reality.4 Adopting the seeing-is-believing mindset, people are overconfident in their ability to detect deep fakes and are thus rendered susceptible to being influenced by deep fake content. Indeed, so sophisticated is this technology and widespread its use that policymakers are struggling to keep up with ways in which to regulate it.5
In other areas, AI, using real-life inputs from texts, letters, and other records of memories, have been used to transform the “personality” of chatbots to that of deceased loved ones. This allows the living relative to “speak” to lost loved ones as they interact with the chatbot that responds in a manner that mimics the dead person’s personality.6
Evading Death Through AI
A proposed future containing highly intelligent lifelike machines (Artificial General Intelligence—AGI) has recently been given credence by leaders of technology giants and research institutions alike. They published a signed statement, proposing that mitigating “the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.”7
Evidently those who are the biggest proponents of AI are also fearful of where it can go. Though it may sound like science fiction, this statement highlights the serious treatment being given to the once far-fetched topic of living side by side with highly intelligent machines or robots.
Some on the quest for AGI (the kind that tries to imitate human thinking) subscribe to transhumanism. In his book To Be a Machine, Mark O’Connell states that “it is their [transhumanists’] belief that we can and should eradicate aging as a cause of death; that we can and should use technology to augment our bodies and our minds; that we can and should merge with machines, remaking ourselves, finally, in the image of our own higher ideals.”8
What is being suggested here is that our own intelligence as humans could create a race of technology-hacked human beings who will outwit death. But would a society driven by this pride be the utopia that humanity longs for in the deepest of questions we ask ourselves about life’s meaning? It is a dystopian view of humanity’s future at its very best.
Choosing an Authentic Reality
The allure of making a race of superintelligent artificial beings, which strikes a chord of fear in many leading technologists and scientists, is simply another way in which Satan seeks to destroy our humanity, as found in God. It is essentially a choice of two realities: one painted by Satan in the context of his lie that we can achieve godlike status and autonomy and the other consisting of living in the awesome reality of God’s eternal love. John Lennox perhaps states it best: “The wonder is that we can, if we desire, become part of this unending story and live in eternal fellowship with the infinitely intelligent and compassionate Saviour, Jesus Christ the Lord. Northing artificial can compare with that reality.”9
1 John McCarthy, “What Is Artificial Intelligence?” www-formal.standford.edu/jmc/whatisai.pdf.
3 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898, 1940), p. 341.
4 N. C. Köbis, B. Doležalová, I Soraperra, “Fooled Twice: People Cannot Detect Deepfakes but Think They Can,” iScience 24, no. 11 (Nov. 19, 2021): 103364, doi: 10.1016/j.isci.2021.103364, PMID: 34820608, PMCID: PMC8602050.
8 Mark O’Connell, To Be a Machine: Adventures ) 6 https://www.npr.org/2017/07/23/538825555/creating-a-dadbot-to-talk-with-a-dead-father; https://www.sfchronicle.com/projects/2021/jessica-simulation-artificial-intelligence 7 https://www.safe.ai/statement-on-ai-risk 8 Mark O’Connell, To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death (New York: Anchor, 2017)
9 John Lennox, 2084: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2020), p. 228.