Artificial Intelligence

What is AI?

The term “artificial intelligence”, otherwise known as “AI”, was first introduced in 1956 at the Dartmouth Conference. This was the original definition: “every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it. An attempt will be made to find how to make machines use language, form abstractions and concepts, solve kinds of problems now reserved for humans, and improve themselves.” [1]

Basically, what artificial intelligence hopes to accomplish is to mimic what humans can do in the areas of speech, behaviour, learning, reasoning, and perception. Since 1956, great strides have been made in all areas. Sometimes we are not even aware of how pervasive this technology has become today. Below are some examples of artificial intelligence in our everyday lives.

Speech and behaviour: Siri, Amazon Echo, Google Translate, and all the various auto readers that read out loud the Bible on your phone at a click of a button.

Learning and reasoning: Machine learning is used by Facebook to auto-tag faces; by Amazon to show products based on the person’s viewing history and interests; and by many other companies. Deep learning was used in the AlphaGo programme that was developed by Google for the board game Go.

Perception: Autonomous vehicles, self-flying drones, facial recognition (iPhone 10 and others), and even the small robot vacuum cleaner that some of us might have in our homes.

Living in the world today, we cannot escape the use of artificial intelligence in one form or another. We are not called to boycott all technology like the Amish do, but we must certainly look deeper and understand from the Word of God how we ought to view and use such technology.

Made a Little Lower Than the Angels

We must first understand a little of how special God has made man. Psalm 8:5-8 beautifully describes this: “For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.”

We often think of angels as powerful beings, and in Scripture they certainly are described as such. But Psalm 8 tells us that God has placed man just below the angels in terms of importance. If it was not clearly taught in Scripture, we would not have dared to place such importance on ourselves. God has given man power to rule the earth and all of her creatures. And to enable man to carry out this task, God made man a thinking and willing creature. Not only that, God has also given man a soul, so that when the child of God dies and his mortal body decays in the ground, his soul goes to be with Christ in heaven. All of these speak of the wonderful and incomprehensible work of God in creating creatures such as us.

A Perfect AI?

Having seen how God has created man to be such a unique and special creature, we can only stand in awe at the power of God. We confess that we will never be able to create a creature the way God has created us. The question then is: why do people still try to create something that is impossible? Why do people strive to create the perfect AI, which mimics humans in all aspects? Is it just the “natural curiosity” of man to push the boundaries of human understanding?

First, we must understand that all the work of unregenerate men is vain and not pleasing in the sight of God. Before the fall, man was created with a position of honour and glory. Man was created in the image of God, in true righteousness, holiness, and knowledge. But after the fall, he lost that image of God and was no longer honourable or glorious. Man turned away from God to be the exact opposite of what God had created him to be.

Canons of Dordt, Head 3/4, Article 1: “Man was originally formed after the image of God. His understanding was adorned with a true and saving knowledge of his Creator and of spiritual things; his heart and will were upright; all his affections pure; and the whole man was holy. But, revolting from God by the instigation of the devil and abusing the freedom of his own will, he forfeited these excellent gifts, and on the contrary entailed on himself blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity, and perverseness of judgment, became wicked, rebellious, and obdurate in heart and will, and impure in his affections.”

After the fall, man still retained his intellect and rule over the earthly creation. The earth and all earthly creatures still serve man and supply him with food, drink, shelter, and clothing. But now, instead of using his abilities for the glory of God, he employs his resources and power to oppose God and serve the devil, doing everything for his own glory and gain.

Genesis 11:4, “And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”  Man is always striving to make a name for himself. That was true in the days when the Tower of Babel was built, and that is true today as well. In his pride, man tries to be the creator, to gain mastery over life and death, and to create intelligence. Oh yes, man may create something that rivals and even far exceeds the intelligence of man. But he will never be able to create a person’s soul and his conscience. He will never be able to fully create a creature that is the same as man in all aspects. He will never accomplish what God did when God created man.

How Do We View AI?

How then does the child of God view artificial intelligence? Can he make use of it? Or even programme and create different forms of artificial intelligence?

Before answering those questions, we must first realise that for the child of God, Christ has restored the image of God in us. With reference to Psalm 8 again, the writer to the Hebrews points everything to Christ. Hebrews 2:9: “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” Christ was made a little lower than the angels so that He could be our representative to suffer the punishment of sin on our behalf. By Christ’s death on the cross, He has restored the image of God to all whom God has given to Him. Though Christ, we are able to properly exercise our dominion over this creation for the glory of God.

That means, like all other modern inventions, AI in itself is not inherently evil. It is how we use it that makes it sinful or God-glorifying. Remember the auto-reader on your phone which reads out loud the Bible? A saint who is blind is able to use such technology to listen to the Bible being read. And this is only one example of how the child of God is able to use AI for the glory of God. Likewise, a child of God can programme robots or create AI if he does so for the glory of God. A child of God understands that God has given him certain abilities and an understanding of how this world works, so that he is able to exercise dominion over the creation. He does not seek to become the creator or to feed his own pride by his creations. He understands that all his abilities come from God and employs all his gifts for the advantage of his fellow saints and the church. By doing so, he gives glory to God. May God grant us wisdom as we live on this earth, always looking forward to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Written By: Deacon Cornelius Boon | Issue 51

Bibliography

Bruinsma, Wilbur (2016). “Man’s Place in God’s Creation” The Reformed Witness Hour.

[1] McCarthy, J., Minsky, M., Rochester, N., Shannon, C.E., A Proposal for the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence., http://raysolomonoff.com/dartmouth/boxa/dart564props.pdf August, 1955

 

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