You might have noticed a recent trend in commercials: robots. It was a noticeable theme among Super Bowl ads this year. From Intuit’s RoboChild to SimpliSafe’s robopocalypse, these ads are playing on growing fears about technology and the rise of artificial intelligence: fears about losing jobs, feeling unsafe, being outsmarted, or being beaten in sports (as in Michelob’s Super Bowl ad).
Fears about the technological future are nothing new, and they reveal more about us than what the future might hold. I believe many of these fears stem from a faulty understanding of human nature and what it means to be God’s image bearers in this broken world.
What’s Your Value?
Recent commercials have depicted advanced robots with human-like intelligence and emotional capacity. Intuit’s robo-child wakes up her “dad” to tell him she is hungry and can’t sleep, while SimpliSafe posits a future where robots take our jobs and even sit next to us at little-league games. These admittedly extreme, sci-fi visions nevertheless capture reasonable worries about how artificial intelligence (AI) will revolutionize society. But as AI changes so much about our world, we must remember that some things that will never change, no matter how blurred the lines become between humans and robots.
Scripture tells us God created humans in his image, giving us a responsibility to be his representatives on earth (Gen 1:26–28). Nothing else in creation was made like us, and nothing will ever be able to take the unique image of God from us. While God made certain parts of creation stronger, quicker, and more agile than humanity, he didn’t make anything as valuable and significant.
Human uniqueness isn’t based on the fact that we have the highest reasoning or intellect, because what would that say about our brothers and sisters with mental and physical disabilities? Is someone less human because they don’t have the mental capacity of another? And what if AI eventually gains higher reasoning and intellectual capacity than humans? Would that make robots more human than humans? No.
Our efficient, technological age tempts us to place ultimate value on one’s ability to contribute to society. We already see this faulty mindset in things like abortion and euthanasia. But while it may be true for how we view robots and other technological tools—that their worth is tied to their usefulness—it is certainly not true for us. Human utility does not determine our value; our identity as divine image bearers does.
Human utility does not determine our value; our identity as divine image bearers does.
Misunderstanding Our Role
Technology can be a wonder—an impressive display of humanity’s creative brilliance. But it can also be a horror, as creepy robot commercials, sci-fi movies, and shows like Black Mirror can attest. Technology can be used in ways that dignify people; but because we live in a fallen world, it can also demean and deceive. For instance, Amazon just scrapped an AI system that demonstrated bias against women in hiring recommendations. AI also allows for the creation of deepfakes, where someone can appear to say and do things they never did. And these are just two of many examples.
Because we are called to love our neighbors, Christians must engage the conversation about how technology is being used for good and for ill, specifically in the emerging area of AI. Christians have rightly focused on dangerous aspects of technology like online pornography and excessive screen time. But we often miss the more subtle ways technology is redefining what it means to be human—and how AI specifically is raising urgent theological, ethical, and anthropological questions.
Christians must engage the conversation about how technology is being used for good and for ill, specifically in the emerging area of AI.
Every Christian does not need to become an AI expert, but we do have an obligation to our neighbor and those in our churches to learn how technology is affecting (and will affect) the ones that we love. We should read books and articles (e.g., Byron Reese’s The Fourth Age; Kai-Fu Lee’s AI Superpowers; Henry Kissinger’s Atlantic piece, “How the Enlightenment Ends”) on these emerging technologies, and spend time reflecting on what is changing and what will never change.
To many in the AI field, we are nothing more than fancy “organic algorithms” or hyper-advanced computer systems, with our bodies as the hardware and our minds the software. Elon Musk worries about how we’ll be able to upgrade humans to keep up with machines. Ray Kurzweil dreams about uploading our minds to computers so we can live forever. As believers, we must engage these dangerous and nihilistic ideas of the future with the unchanging truth of the gospel.
Jobs are going to be lost, but likely not at the rate some have predicted. You will daily interact with AI at some point in your future job, if you don’t already (and it will probably make your day easier). You may even be woken up by a robot one day soon (though hopefully not by a creepy robo-child). But regardless of how advanced AI may become, God created humans uniquely to exercise dominion over the world, stewarding it as his irreplaceable representatives.
Christians need not fear technology; we just need to approach it wisely. We need to be engaged in the conversations and working in the industries where these technologies are being crafted. God designed us to create and harness technology in ways that honor him and dignify our neighbors. Now more than ever before, Christians must commit to that task.