Everybody and their uncle is talking about ChatGPT. Pastor Tan Kim Hock accepted City News’ invitation to share his theological take on ChatGPT and artificial intelligence and how these relate to Christianity.
“The relationship between artificial intelligence (AI) and the church is complex and multifaceted, with different religious traditions having different perspectives on the use and development of AI. Some religious leaders and thinkers have expressed concerns about the ethical implications of AI, particularly around issues such as autonomous decision-making, privacy, and the potential for AI to replace human labour. Others see AI as an opportunity to further their mission and spread their message – by developing AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants to provide guidance and support to their followers, or to analyze sacred texts and develop new interpretations of religious teachings.”
The above paragraph was generated by ChatGPT with some minor human-made edits on my part … pretty good for an opening introduction, no? According to Reuters (1 Feb), “ChatGPT, the popular chatbot from OpenAI, is estimated to have reached 100 million monthly active users in January 2023, just two months after launch, making it the fastest-growing consumer application in history, according to a UBS study.”
The exponential growth of ChatGPT has thrown the spotlight back onto AI, which has been around since the earliest successful AI programme was written in 1951 by Christopher Strachey. ChatGPT belongs to the category of generative AI, which is able to produce new content based on the data given to the system. Its application appeals to the general public and thus spurs great interest as it is a useful tool to create content or gather information for work or other interests.
Interestingly, Google, in a bid to compete in this arena, released its own version called “Bard”. Unfortunately, a “mistake”—wrong info—made by the tool, caused the stock of its parent company Alphabet to plummet by as much as 9 percent, wiping out over US$100 billion of its market value.
RED PILL, BLUE PILL?
We can observe that while AI technology has vast potential, we must approach it with caution as it exposes us to the dangers of misinformation, propaganda and fraud. One of my favourite movie series is The Matrix trilogy, which portrays a future where humans are controlled by AI machines. Honestly, I don’t think that will ever happen as the Bible already gives us insight into future events concerning the end of this age. (Advertisement time: Please get hold of Pastor Kong Hee’s teachings on the Book of Revelation.)
There is an old saying that “fire is a good servant, but a bad master.” I think the same can be said of many systems of the world, whether be it the financial, political, educational, healthcare etc. Many of these innovative systems provide order and structure that benefit the community and improve quality of life. However, we are also aware of systems that become self-serving tools for some individuals who manipulate, control and exploit others. I think if we are conscious of the strengths and weaknesses of generative AI, the church can better navigate the changes and breakthroughs so that AI can be a blessing to others and advance the kingdom of God.
Most evangelical churches have historically tended towards the utilitarian use of technology, a tool that can extend human capacity toward intended purposes. As a Pentecostal, I’m therefore open and excited about new ways of doing things better and serving a broader community with our resources. The recent Covid pandemic has, in many ways, propelled the church at large to embrace new ways of leading the congregation and ministering to those in need. However, we are also aware that some of the values and traditions may have been compromised in the process, and that we require deeper theological reflection to arrive at a scriptural framework that avoids potential pitfalls (scams, misinformation, lack of physical interaction) due to the nature of digital platforms.
With the explosion of AI technology, there are indeed many theological reflections that are worthy of our attention. For example, the rise of AI is a result of the advancement of human intelligence. Nobody refutes that. Therefore, it does make sense that human intelligence must be an outcome of another higher intelligence—in our apologetics, the reasonable belief in a creator God. It is absurd to believe that intelligence comes from nothing, or happens by some cosmic coincidence.
CAN AI TAKE OVER MY JOB?
In this short article, I wish to discuss something more fundamental: “Can AI replace human beings?” Many are worried that their jobs will be replaced by AI and thus their employment and future are at risk. Others are concerned that AI may replace human relationships and that society at large will suffer from mental-emotional issues. Personally, I think AI’s role in mundane, repetitive jobs can be seen in a positive light, leaving the individual to tap into the greater ability and creativity that reside in him or her, hence making his or her life more productive.
I also believe that human touch and connectedness can never be replaced by AI, no matter how technology advances. The reason is simple: mankind is created in the image of God.
The most precious gift that God gave us is choice—every human’s free will! It is amazing that God will never violate the gift of free will, or else mankind will become God’s AI. It is also so precious that God is willing to take on human nature for all eternity in the Person of Christ—a mystery beyond human comprehension—to redeem humanity and reconcile us in His eternal state of glory!
So, while your jobs may be replaced by AI, your value as the image of God can never be replaced. In fact, individually, you are so unique that there is only one you in the entire universe and history of humankind. If you choose to reject God’s love and His free gift of salvation, you will be separated from His Presence for all eternity, and there is nobody that can replace you. AI, with all its advancement, may not even be able to replicate the varieties of animal instinct. How can it even come close to mimicking the complexity of human free will and response?
I believe inside each individual is a vast untapped well of creativity, ability, and potential that no AI can ever replace. The main hindrance to all these underdeveloped resources within us is the issue of sin, which separates us from our Source: the creative almighty God. Sin is a declaration of independence by one’s selfish human will to seek lust and pleasure at the expense of others. This is also why most human systems will fail in the long term if there is no divine intervention. Jesus declares that “what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul” (Mark 8:36). The issue is never the system, the method, or in this case, the technology. The real issue is the condition of the soul. A soul that is reconciled and restored in Christ will achieve its maximum potential and become a great blessing to the world. A soul that is disconnected and lost, however talented, will not achieve any lasting results.
AI can help us to lay some foundation and give us knowledge that will aid us in our learning and development. However, you will be disappointed if you intend to rely on AI to solve all your problems or give you a worry-free life. No system in the world can accomplish that for you, as only Christ can give true rest to our souls. AI can never replace that uniqueness, creativity and potential that God has put inside of you. So, while you tap into technology to make life better, the real breakthrough comes when your soul is connected to the unlimited resources of the infinite God!