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."
For a good while now I have had the privilege of helping to shape the global discussion about the future of Christianity as it pertains to technological futurism. I have met and spoken with numerous tech-savvy Christians from various parts of the world, all of which have articulated that they believe that the quickly emerging technological future has radical implications for their faith. In the midst of those discussions, I have heard many perspectives and through them I have come to understand one very valuable fact: Christianity is desperately in need of an updated technological hermeneutic.
Proof of this assertion arises in the fact that a lot of the anti-religion tech crowd believes that emerging technology will be the end of Christianity. I actually believe just the opposite. I think that the technological revolution that is quickly taking shape will breath new life into stagnant theological waters – helping to spring forth a more holy understanding of our humanity.
But in order for that to happen Christians need to begin to take seriously our responsibility to learn from our rich theological traditions so that we might try and use that wisdom to help one another interpret the quickly changing technological world around us. Put simply, humanity needs better ways of understanding what is happening to us now (i.e. how technology is effecting us), and how we are participating in that transformative process. And in order to foster such understanding, we need better ways of talking about the ideas that are already on the table.
Two prime examples of such needed changes in verbiage come in the ways that the world talks talk about intelligence and reality. With regard to intelligence we have more frequently heard the lingo of “artificial intelligence” being used in secular circles. I myself have utilized this terminology in my writings in an attempt to infuse theological concepts and discussions into society. But any Christian that thinks about AI, even for just a moment, understands quickly that such terminology is simply inadequate.
Allow me to illustrate my point. Christians rightly understand that we are not God. God is our Creator. Therefore in relationship to God we are “artificial intelligence.” And here is where we have a problem. If when using the term “artificial” we mean something created other than what is “natural” we find ourselves in an intellectual conundrum. Isn’t humanity “natural?” Well of course we are but we are also something other than God.
Basic theological inquiry such as this quickly leads us to a more proper understanding of this new season of technological emergence that humanity is presently experiencing. Instead of referring to new kinds of intelligence as “artificial” we should probably be referring to AI as “alternative intelligence.” And with such a change of verbiage necessarily will arise a more informed and much needed global discussion as to what the ethical treatment of alternative intelligences, both existing and developing, should be.
The second example of the need of new verbiage that arises from an updated technological hermeneutic comes in the lingo of “virtual reality.” While this verbiage isn’t quite as inaccurate as the current AI vernacular, it doesn’t really keep open the theological and philosophical possibilities that potentially face humanity.
In using the word “virtual” individuals are generally trying to express the notion that the reality in question is one that is being simulated by computer software. But I want to suggest the theological possibility that everything that we experience and declare to be “natural” is actually technological. In short – I think a new technological hermeneutic might suggest that we are advanced and developing technological creatures – created by a technological God – living in a wholly technological world. Understanding this possibility though, and the extraordinary part that humanity plays in the created universe’s existence, can come only via a theological understanding of humanity. And as such, what we have quickly labeled as a “virtual” reality may again simply be an “alternative” one.
Of course I think there is much more to be said about these issues but the overarching point is that such a hermeneutical perspective is not only essential to Christians but to all of humanity. And the reason for this is that the verbiage of theology fosters a key ingredient of emerging technology: possibility. And such possibility expands our perception both of who we are and who we might have the potential to become.