Artificial intelligence is trending. News articles, documentaries, and discussions on the topic abound. What was once considered science fiction has become mainstream. Even those who’ve never heard of Isaac Asimov are suddenly interested in what shape our AI-integrated future might look like. One reason for the surge in interest is undoubtably the rise of ChatGPT.
ChatGPT or Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer is an artificial intelligence chatbot. We’ve all encountered chatbots, whether it is a “How can I help you?” pop-up on a website or an automated reply service. What makes ChatGPT unique, however, is the natural language processing it uses to create humanlike dialogue on almost any topic. It was first released in November 2022, and has only improved since then.
Many have touted the arrival of ChatGPT as another step towards a technological singularity: a hypothetical moment when technology advances so far that it will become uncontrollable and irreversible. This is the stuff of science fiction nightmares. Even though we have come a long way, we aren’t anywhere near the dystopian disaster many fear.
Artificial intelligence can be categorized into three levels. The first, limited AI, includes all artificial intelligence programs or protocols that perform a specific task. It may do that task well, but it can’t do anything else. Deep Blue, which beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, is an example of such an AI. It is very good at chess, but not much else.
The second level, general AI, would be an artificial intelligence capable of a wide range of functions. It would be able to learn new functions and improve existing ones. It would be almost human, or at the very least, to most observers it would seem human. The third and final level, super AI, would be an artificial intelligence capable of improving itself beyond our human capabilities, surpassing our intellect.
While some believe that we are only a small step away from general or possibly even super AI, the reality is very different. Currently, our most advanced AI (those that employ machine or deep learning) are nothing more than capable but very limited tools. They aren’t anywhere near the level of sophistication that would make them “almost human.”
How should Christians reflect on the advance of artificial intelligence? Perhaps it would be wise to start with the humans who create artificial intelligence. There is no way to remove the human element entirely. A human planned and programmed the processes that the AI uses. A human created the data that advanced AIs like ChatGPT are trained on. A human gives the AI the instructions that it executes so well.
This has two immediate implications. First, when we understand that humanity is central to the development of artificial intelligence, we also understand that sin is close at hand. An AI, like ChatGPT, has no way of knowing whether the information it was fed, is true. It cannot account for the biases of those who created it or the data it was trained on. It can write the lyrics to a Christian worship song or imitate your favourite author, but it does not know whether what it generates is good or true. That depends on the data, the user, and the algorithms, i.e., humans. Trusting in AI or hoping that it will be the miracle that saves the world, would as foolish as trusting in man.
The second implication is related to the first: it should make us appreciate the unique glory that God has bestowed upon humanity. Even though we are fallen creatures, we are still said to have been created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27). Each attempt to create artificial intelligence, to create something “in our own image,” reminds us that we are unique. The closer we think we get to an artificial intelligence that matches our own, the more we come to appreciate the difference between us and our machines. We have a capacity for the good, the right, the beautiful. We are more than sophisticated robots, a collection of chemical reactions and firing electrons. We are image-bearers of the most High.
Like with most advances in human technology, there will be triumphs, fears, and failures. For now, at least, we can rest easy that we have not created something “human”; only God can do that.