Current Old News

Why AI?

Back before I started this blog, when I used to email links of current event stories, a friend cornered me at church one day. Cocking his head a little funny, he said something to the effect of: "You sure email a lot of stuff about AI!"

His confused, perplexed response to AI articles as "current (old) news" was understandable - and perhaps you share his sentiments. And I admit - it is a little unusual because it is so sci-fi and out there, seeming more at home in a movie than in a newspaper.

While I have loosely followed and been fascinated with AI since a young adult, even trying my hand at writing some wacky "learning" algorithms myself (they didn't learned so good!), I think there are a few reasons why it is now time (2016+) to keep an eye on the progress of AI, filtering our thoughts of it though a Biblical understanding of man and a technology that is beginning to spread into everyday life. I have compiled some of my thoughts on the matter below in no particularly logical order to try to explain why I include these articles on this blog, and even a bit on how our quest for AI reveals the worldview of men.

Note that this post is not a definitive (or even a kind-of good) definition of AI. I've provided links as I go for those that are interested in learning more from people who actually know something. :)

Overview and Random Thoughts

AI is Not New
The first thing I want to mention is that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not a new concept. While the word "artificial intelligence" appears to have been first coined in 1956, the history of inanimate material being given life (or stories of such) go back far into ancient history, pre-dating the birth of our Lord, and showing up even in Greek Mythology. Therefore, as you read this post, don't be tempted to think "new idea" but "new technology-based expression of an old idea".

If you are interested in exploring the history, some suggested starting places are: Brief History (of AI), A Brief History of Artificial Intelligence livescience, and History of artificial intelligence

Included in the history of AI are not just "thinking machines", but also legends of golems - servants supposedly formed from inanimate matter (clay) and animated through spells. The parallels between the false creation of a golem from clay and the true creation of Adam by the living God who formed him from dust and breathed life into him (Gen 2:7) can be clearly seen. Whether entirely myth or ever actually achieved is irrelevant - the very practice or study of how to create a golem falls well within the arena of witchcraft, would include demonic involvement, and clearly an abomination to God.

Interestingly enough, the goal of a fully working AI is something "formed" from inanimate matter and made "alive". It, therefore, can be said to share some golem-like attributes!

I'm not saying that I think your Siri is demon possessed or anything :) I'm just pointing out that, loosely speaking, the final goal of AI shares similarities with the age-old idea of a golem.

AI In Revelation (Maaaaaaaaybe)

Considering golems as false creation of life, and AIs similarity to golems, permit me to step out on a limb for a moment and suggest a possible hint of a maaaaaaaaaybe connection between AI and a false creation found in the book of Revelation. I am merely going to propose this as something to consider when you are bored and have nothing else to think about, and not setting forward as doctrine!

First, let's quote the relevant section of Revelation (including a couple verses before for some context):
Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon. He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life. And it was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed. (Rev 13:11-15 NASB)

In that passage (starting in the middle of verse 14) we read what sounds like a copycat (false) creation by the second beast (false prophet). It starts by him "telling those who dwell on the earth" to make an image of the first beast. Notice the parallels between this false act of creation being made in the image of the beast (who will falsely declare himself to be God - 2 Thes 2:4) and the true God making man in His own image (Gen 1:26-27). After the image is created, the false prophet then gives "breath to the image" so that "the image...would even speak", which appears to be another parallel between false and true God, as mentioned above.

BTW - notice that, unlike the true God, neither the false prophet nor the beast are able to make the image themselves, but require others to make it for them (showing their limitations).

This sounds like inanimate material being fashioned into the image of the beast by those on earth and then animated by the false prophet with the giving of a false "breath of life" so that it speaks. Basically a golem with one notable difference - in mythology, the golem couldn't speak, but this image will be able to. One might rightly say that this is a perfected golem (though that's an oxymoron, since the original Hebrew word for 'golem' has the sense of unfinished/unformed mass) or a perfected false image.

Now this verse is such a foreign idea to our ears that we can almost just discard it as something entirely spiritual/demonic done during the end times, which it may very well be. And certainly the false breath of life given by the false prophet appears to be demonic in nature. But taking the end-goal of AI development (inanimate, "living" being) and its creation by collective mankind effort (those who dwell on earth) and comparing with the similar collectively-created, inanimate-turned-animate image found in Revelation, and hopefully you can see how it's at least poooooooossible that what is being developed now might be a precursor "technology" to that final image.

One other thing to note is that this image, whatever it may actually be, will be instrumental in the killing of those who don't worship the beast (Rev 13:15). Considering current discussions on how much decision making humans should give to AI weapons, it's not outside the scope of the direction AI is heading that it might be tasked with making kill decisions. At the very least, it shouldn't be hard to imagine that as the technology matures, it will be capable of segregating the desirables from the undesirables based on behavior, belief, or whatever.

There's much we can speculate from here, but let's move on now because Scripture takes it no further, and our ideas of end times beyond what Scripture has revealed are often best kept to ourselves. Take this tangent for what you feel it's worth, remembering that however it turns out, the end times will conform precisely to God's written word :)

Current Status of AI in Society

While "AI", as we've looked at briefly, has been around in one form or another for a long time, in just the last year it has suddenly become all the rage, with 2016 even being announced as The Year Of AI. Now just because organizations like Microsoft say it is, that doesn't make it true. But there is a rather noticeable and recent surge of a multitude of businesses and industries seeing the potential of computers "understanding" and digging through large swatches of data. No longer is it just the hobbyist tinkering around with learning algorithms or Google pursuing even faster, smarter search results - everyone is rushing to get in on the game!

That collective business might, further backed by the US Government's BRAIN Initiative "aimed at revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain", looks to propel AI technology towards being a major force in changing how jobs, intelligence gathering, and everyday life "happens". At the very least, we can say that today we stand on a precipice in how we see and interact with the digital world. How much of a change has yet to be seen, but if pure effort is an indication then this can be said to be man's current holy grail of technology.

This "suddenly everywhere" of AI is a major factor motivating me to keep closer tabs on its research and potential use in everyday technology than I would have before.

Keeping Perspective on AI

Though it has intelligence in the name, don't be deceived - AI it is not "smart enough" to take over the world! For all the news lately, really what's being accomplished are task-specific uses of deep learning algorithms. What doesn't yet exist is some kind of learning machine with general artificial intelligence, able to be trained in any task and, like a human, grow in skill and ability. While a machine might have beaten "us" at AlphaGO, that's all that that machine can do!.

Also, when reading Scripture we see little to nothing (minus, perhaps, my speculative comments above) about AI ruling mankind or turning us into a fuel source or anything like that, so we need to keep this technology in perspective! Let the Elon Musks of the world run around, fearful because this life is all that they have (unless the Lord graciously calls out of this darkness). If you are in Christ, then consider this article with joy knowing that while this may all seem futuristic and perhaps even frighteningly thrilling to us, that our sovereign King has known the end from the beginning (Is 46:10)!

AI Considerations

And with that "brief" and general overview out of the way, let's look at some specific ways in which the development of AI is a creation after man's own heart as we strive to be like gods and satisfy our desires...

A Creation in Our Own Image

When our Creator first mentions the creation of mankind, He said, "Let Us make man in our image, according to Our likeness" (Gen 1:26a NASB). People have debated what exactly it means to be made in the image of God, generally dividing His attributes into categories or gradients of likeness separating what is God's alone (ex: omnipotence) from what we share with Him in some part (ex: the ability to have mercy, to love, to think, etc). In whichever way the categories are sliced, basically it comes down to mean that man is like God and represents God. 1

In a practical sense and as an example, in our pre-fallen state someone could have looked at how we expressed kindness, and known that God is kind and how that kindness looks. One way to look at it is that many false religious make images of their god 2, but the true and living God made His own living image so that He Himself would be known. Not that we are to be worshiped in the way that others foolishly worship images they make (Jer 10:8-10), but that we were made so that God could be known and glorified, and so that He could be rightly worshiped.

AI may not be the only aspect in which we are acting like gods with creation (see techniques like CRISPR, which has promised to give us 'god-like' editing ability over even our own DNA), but it is arguably the one area where we are trying to make one of our own creations be in our image (to be like, and to represent us). Some hope to do this by uploading their experiences and knowledge into a machine to "live" beyond death, while others desire to create a machine that thinks on its own with an intellect equal to, or greater than, ours. In each and every case, however, it's about our creation being made according to our likeness (c.f. Gen 1:26).

While the technology has great potential in medical and science fields, because man is corrupted by nature, desiring to be like God (Gen 3:5), we should soberly consider this technology's potential. Coming from a Biblical worldview, we should not be surprised to find that there are those from a man-centered, naturalist worldview who have no problems with the idea of creating something in our image, for our glory, and without regards to the limits the Creator whom they refuse to acknowledge. This desire hasn't changed since the beginning, it's just the tools for attempting to do so are getting better!

AI is Amoral...sort of

Morality properly defined is living rightly according to who God is. That is the standard because He created us in His image. I think sometimes people get confused on this point, and think that 'morals' are simply obeying a particular set of rules or "moral codes" and that the Bible merely contains one possible set of rules. However, "rules" in the Bible (such as the well-known 10 commandments) aren't arbitrary lists of dos and donts to follow, but rather reflect the character of the Law Giver. For example God cannot lie (Titus 1:2, et al), so He commands us to not lie (Ex 20:16, et al). Because God hates lying lips (Prov 12:22), in His grace He gives us specific laws for our own good (to disobey is to incur the just wrath of God) and to show us we are unable to live in a way that pleases Him (outside of Christ) so that we would turn and repent. This is why we can say that the moral laws in the Bible apply to all. Not because we chose that particular set of rules as the right way for us, but because they reflect our Creator who made us in His absolute and unchanging image, and requires that we live rightly according to that image.

Though we are corrupted, not even able to think correctly about God or our relationship to Him, yet out of mercy He also instilled us with a conscious that acts like a warning when we are doing something that is at odds with who He is (Rom 2:15). While we can harden our conscious by ignoring the warning for long enough, that sense of guilt when we steal, lie, etc that hounds us is letting us know we have acted in a way that is contrary to the God who created us.

Note that all aspects of who we are is corrupted, including even our conscience. So while it gives a rough warning, it isn't a reliable guide nor a substitute for the Bible from where we get our knowledge of how to rightly obey God! (sorry, Jimmy Cricket)

Contrast our innate knowledge of morality that comes from being image bearers with AI simply being a system of logic (algorithms) with no intrinsic understanding of right or wrong. It's pragmatic in its decisions, not concerned with any potential damage it does. In that sense it's amoral.

To compare our sense of morality with a machine, consider the classic Trolley Problem. This famous ethical thought experiment places before us an impossible, hypothetical situation where no matter what decision we make, someone will die. In its basic form, a trolley is rolling out of control down a track on which 4 people are tied. You have 1 option - you can pull a lever which will cause the trolley to take an alternate track...where only 1 person is tied. What do you do - allow the 4 to be killed or kill the 1?

Now the point of that test is that there isn't a good answer, but as a human, when reading a problem like that, you should feel the gravity of the decision you would have to make. It's not just 1 < 4 = ANSWER. Not killing other humans is something we get from our Creator (c.f. Gen 9:6), and the decision sits heavy on us because either way, His image bearers will be killed and in either case, we will be responsible (did nothing to save the 4, pulled the lever to kill the 1). A machine, who doesn't have this built in morality given by our Creator, will rely entirely on its programming.

If the Trolley Problem sounds a little abstract, consider a modern example of this ethical dilemma playing out right before our very eyes with self-driving cars. In that example, the ethical dilemma is about programming cars to decide who to kill, the summary of which is when at an impossible decision point (like switching the trolley track), the car must decide whether it should swerve and kill the driver to save a pedestrian or to save the driver at all costs even if it means killing a pedestrian. Some have suggested it is an impossible problem because buyers of self-driving cars will have more than a casual interest in the final decision made! The solution, they say, is that it should be decided by random at that moment ("eeny meeny miny moe, my manufacture said to pick the very best one and you. are. it...").

Because humans don't want to be killed by their creation (oddly enough), they will, admittedly, create a type of conscious (a set of rules) as they go, which is why I say that AI will be amoral sort of. But whose morality will be programmed into it? Unlike our Creator who is good (not "acts good" but is "the definition of good"), and made us in His image to reflect His goodness, we are all over the place on the morality spectrum because we have rejected Him as the absolute standard. Who will be deciding what is morally right/wrong for the AI? Looking at society right now, the major players in AI (Microsoft, Google, Facebook, etc) are all very publicly anti-God in their stances on issues that are very moral. And it is those same companies that will most likely be instrumental in defining AI's "morality".

Worse, still, companies like Google have even formed secret ethical boards to discuss AI ethical issues out of public view, which should be, at the very least, troubling.

So AI is amoral by default, but being given moral "boundaries" or "rules" by men who reject the morality of God as being absolute!

I do want to pause for just a moment and make sure it is understood that I'm not saying that Google or Facebook or Microsoft are "evil incarnate", or any such nonsense. The Bible tells us that all men are evil (Gen 8:21, Is 64:6, Jer 17:9, Eph 2:1-5, Rom 3:10-18, etc) and it is without Christ that no one does what is pleasing to God (Rom 8:5-8, Heb 11:6, etc). This applies to those way at the top of the global companies, such as Mark Zuckerberg, all the way down to the hardworking small business owner just trying to get by, to even you and me. Those companies (as with all) are run by sinful men, and the directions they take and decisions they make are based on mankind's natural bent and what satisfies the natural bent of their customers.

AI Reflects Our Fallen Nature

I ended the last point with this, but wanted to focus on it just a moment more, tying it to the idea of creating AI systems in our image, which means basing it on our fallen nature.

In Genesis 1:26-27, God reveals that we (mankind) were created as His image bearers. As mentioned above, this means that before the fall (Gen 3:1-24) we were a reflection of the character and attributes of our Creator and because He is good, we displayed His goodness. However, the moment we rebelled against Him, we became perverted, distorted images - no longer "very good" (c.f. Gen 1:31). It is a result of that corruption that we have attempted to usurp God and be god, ourselves. Because we are now not good, if we create something to reflect us, it is, by definition, not good as well. That doesn't mean it can't have good applications, but because it is based on fallen man, it, too, will be morally corrupted. In short - fully functioning AI would be an artificial intelligence made in our sinful image.

Scientists and programmers, of course, aren't trying to write "sinful AI" (well...not all of them) - the point is it is impossible for us to do otherwise in our fallen state.

AI Is a Tool for Discrimination

First: Discrimination is not a bad word! Everybody discriminates on a daily basis with just about every decision we make. For example, when I need to buy more coffee, I don't just walk into any store and buy any brand of whatever roast I lay my hand on first. Rather I go to a specific store, buy a specific brand of coffee, and a specific roast. Thus it can be said that I discriminate against other stores, brands, and roasts every week! Discrimination is simply recognizing differences and responding to them. How we respond to the differences (and what differences we are speaking about) is when discrimination goes from not-sinful to sinful.

In a similar fashion to how we discriminate, AI is being designed to discriminate by being made to look through piles of data and understand the similarities and differences so that actions can betaken based on that knowledge. For this very reason, AI promises to be a boon to advertisers as the technology is better able to discriminate for targeted advertising, and why it's probably no stretch to say that advertisers will be some of the earliest adopters of this technology. Of course the potential use extends far beyond advertising (hedge funds and others looking to buy and sell), but advertisers already see the potential for having greater knowledge of people's lives when it comes to placing products in front of them.

But that greater knowledge about an individual's behavior also means it can be used by people, companies, and governments to become better discriminators against those individuals. And someone with lots of data - say a Google worth of data - could use this deep knowledge to do more than just help you choose your next book or restaurant, but decide even so far as whether you can buy or sell (c.f. Rev 13:17). Again, I appeal to man's fallen nature - as well as history - of where that knowledge will eventually lead. And because carnal man hates the things of Christ, given the opportunity to discriminate against that information, it will be taken at some point.

As we watch the birth of a technology that reflects our sinful nature and whose morality is defined by the general (anti-God) morality of the world, we should be reminded about what the Bible says about those who trust in Christ as the Savior. The Bible tells us that people hate the message of the cross (1 Cor 1:18) and those who bring the message because it is the very aroma of death for those who are perishing (2 Cor 2:16). Christ said they (referring to those in the world) hate His followers because they hated Him first. (John 15:18)

It shouldn't surprise us, then, if one day AI was used to discriminate against followers of Christ. The Bible tells us that's where society is globally heading right up until the end.

AI is not Confined to the Digital World

Just to add to the previous section, we should be careful about thinking of the activity that these AI systems parse being only our online interactions (what sites we visit, etc). We live in a world where not just people, but things are connected to the internet. Known as the Internet of Things (IoT), basically everything with a digital "pulse" is starting to be hooked to the internet. The list of connected devices is growing, but even if you don't have anything fancy like a Google nest (or Amazon's almost scary Echo), you probably have a smart phone or tablet. Maybe you even have a smart watch or fitness tracker. All these devices are leaving traces where you are, where you were, and what you did while you were there.

Your real world habits are already generally knowable (and growing) because of the devices we commonly carry around with us. You shouldn't be surprised when that desirable information is as regularly collected and sorted through as the websites you visit!


So what do we do with these thoughts? Well, first, I hope you've learned at least a LITTLE more about AI in general and specifically why I include them with more traditional current event stories such as Israel and wars, and why I often separate them out from other technology articles. While "just" the latest technology, it also has some peculiarly unusual aspects that can't be said of other technologies such as being built with an goal of being "alive" (in appearance, anyway), and being based on man's sinful image, infused with man's morality, and designed to discriminate.

Some hail AI as the natural evolutionary step - almost a right that must be done if we are to "move forward" - while others cower before it, imagining apocalyptic scenarios unsupported by the Bible. The Bible allows for neither. Rather, even if AI DOES goes crazy and is used to kill the saints, know that God is sovereign over even that :)

Parting Thought

When considering man's desires that have shown themselves in editing of DNA and creating machines in our image, I often marvel at the meaning of the words found in Genesis when God confuses our language:
"The LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them." (Gen 11:6 NASB).

1 - Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 442
2 - Idols are not limited to statues. Anything we prefer over God is our idol.

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