AI : Would God save us from our technology?

“An all-powerful, infinite, unchanging, masculine God who could but won’t stop holocaust, cancer, mental illness, mass shootings, nuclear war or climate disaster is of no earthly use to me.”

Technology: what a wondrous thing. Generations of human-designed machines and systems have taken away so much of the repetitive, exhausting labor of life. Washing our clothes, heating our homes, transporting us over water, land, and sky, and now connecting us to every possible source of information we have ever wanted, a whole universal library at our fingertips.

But our technologies, like human beings, are not entirely benevolent. They contain the potential for destruction, whether we mean mechanical failure, political disinformation, or nuclear war. This week, I have been distressed by the warnings shared by information engineers that Artificial Intelligence (AI), the growing capacity of our complex machines to understand and recreate human thought, images, and speech, is developing in ways that parallel and potentially surpass human reasoning.

Science fiction’s imaginings are no longer just fiction. During recent congressional hearings on AI, senior computer scientists testified that their systems have now collected so much human information they no longer simply play chess or fly planes better than we do, they could potentially become a form of independent life that threatens humanity. The inventors of AI are worried that we may have created technology that overtakes us. They call for increased self and governmental regulation of their companies as they forever race to be best/first/biggest in the marketplace.

These dire warnings have been the background hum of my thinking lately. Exactly what kind of world will our children and grandchildren inherit? How do we, how can we, mitigate the worst of human behaviors? Can AI be controlled by those who created it? And what will stop Putin and his devastating lust for Russian empire? Or the chaotic violence of Central American countries that force tens of thousands to rush our southern border? Or the extremist rhetoric that has made even necessary Congressional compromise impossible?

There is a strong current in Christian theology that has always answered these difficult questions with rigid certainty, the unblinking belief in God’s infinite sovereignty. This declaration that God is over and above the things of creation – unchanging, all powerful, all knowing – rings out from pulpits everywhere. And in being so powerful, can save us from ourselves. This old, intuitive theology has been repeated so long that it supersedes other common talk about God. No wonder so many reject belief in that theology. An all-powerful, infinite, unchanging, masculine God who could but won’t stop holocaust, cancer, mental illness, mass shootings, nuclear war or climate disaster is of no earthly use to me.

There is another way to think about God. Instead of infinite power, I agree with those who believe the central characteristic of God and God’s sovereignty is creative love. I call myself a Christian because I see God demonstrating through Jesus what embodied love can do. Jesus taught, prayed with, healed, encouraged, fed, freed, and raised up the dead. He sought out the people without power to include them. He railed against human arrogance, exclusion, and empire, responding to hate with love.

Jesus had such a short public life. When power began to push back at him, this creator God didn’t stop the disciples’ doubts, fears, and betrayals. Didn’t stop the political and religious wheels from spinning. Didn’t intervene to prevent Jesus’ arrest, his beating or public crucifixion and death. God let that death hang over the world until that Easter morning when renewed life enlivened cold flesh.

This is the God I trust, long for, complain to, and exhaust myself trying to describe in words. God as an in-fleshed God. Creating human life along with us, a God whose spirit is close as breath and skin to us. Whose earthly power is revealed when we challenge our own lust for control, for certainty, and for all those death-dealing empires we create. God is known when we risk our comfort for the sake of the other, the powerless, the hungry, and the complex creation in which all life exists. God is visible when love defeats hate. That’s the kingdom Christians pray for.

If this along-side us God is real, and the all-powerful, yet indifferent god is not, I must conclude that God is creating divine relationship with us as we go along, and will be known in love, renewal, and wonder, and when assisting us to intervene on ourselves. That description of God is one I can believe in. As we pray for our nation and for the world, let us pray for God’s spirit of wisdom to infuse all those who work at the edges of technology and invention. Heaven knows we need that kind of power.

(Written for / published in The Savage Pacer newspaper, May 27, 2023)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *