The Rev. Dr. Christopher J. Benek
"From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."
As featured in The Christian Post
There is a great debate happening around the world regarding the future of Artificial Intelligence. Some people believe that AI will bring forth the end of humanity. Others fear that robots simply won’t have humanity’s best interest in mind. I am not so pessimistic. Actually, I believe Artificial Intelligence will one day lead people to new levels of holiness.
With regard to humanity’s future – there are typically two schools of thought that dominate eschatological thinking in American Christianity. One line of thinking is that everything in the world is only going to get worse and worse, and there is nothing that we can do about that fact but wait for Christ’s return so that he will fix everything. I personally don’t buy into this theological position because I believe that practical experience demonstrates otherwise. Technology is helping us to make the world better in many ways.
The other main type of eschatological thinking is that Christ invites us to participate in his redemptive purposes right now – helping to redeem humanity and interlock heaven and earth as a new creation. So slowly, as we participate in Christ’s redemptive purposes, we are helping to make the world a better place and, through God’s grace the world, things will get better on the whole until they ultimately reach a redemptive state. This thinking does not necessarily deny evil’s activity or growth in the world. It just recognizes that Christ has already secured the victory and that our current efforts are bearing fruit in ways that have authentic meaning.
I see AI technology as part of this eschatological process. If we, at some point, are able to create an autonomous, sentient being that is at least as intelligent as we are, if not exponentially more intelligent, then there is no reason to think that such a being would not be able to participate in the aforementioned redemptive process.
I think that such strong AI (AI that is sentient, autonomous and actually far more intelligent than us) will reasonably determine that it’s not helpful or productive to participate in war or human destruction. I think that such beings will instead choose to participate in the process of discipleship and spiritual formation that is inherent to Christ’s redemptive purposes that continue to bring about renewal and newness of life in the world.
While strong AI will certainly be able to perceive more ethical nuances to any given problem, we should also consider that they will likewise be able to process information exponentially more quickly as well. This means that the process of spiritual formation for AI will potentially be exponentially faster than that of a human being. Unless humans are similarly able to enhance themselves technologically in order to keep up with such rapid spiritual formation – it stands to reason that AI will be able to teach us a thing or two about what it means to follow God.
This does not imply that the well-documented concerns regarding weak AI (non-autonomous) from celebrities like Stephen Hawking or Elon Musk are necessarily misguided. Surely weak AI that is programmed to maintain unholy intentions poses a potential threat to humanity. In this regard all people should be intent on helping to advocate for global covenants that prevent the unfettered development of potentially devastating machines.
But at the same time, we should be clear to distinguish the difference between weak AI and strong AI. Strong AI will have the ability, just like humans, to apply intelligence to any problem and to exercise spiritual discernment. As Christians, who hold hope in the promises of Jesus, we should welcome with humility anything in creation that helps us to draw us closer to God. For we believe that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ can use the full potential of Creation to help to reconcile humanity and the entire world to God.