ChatGPT has been much in the news lately with some praising it for making business easier, and others warning that it will make millions of jobs redundant.
What is ChatGPT?
In case you haven’t heard about it, ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot. The name “ChatGPT” combines “Chat”, referring to its chatbot functionality, and “GPT”, which stands for Generative Pre-trained Transformer, a type of computer language that professes to allow you to have human-like conversations and much more with it. The language model can answer questions and assist you with tasks, such as composing emails, essays, and programming code.
The fear is also that it will provide scammers, cheaters, and fake news propagators with a powerful tool. Elon Musk, the wealthiest man in the world with one of the highest IQs in the world, has warned that Artificial Intelligence (AI) has civilisation-destroying potential and is planning the launch of his latest venture, X.AI aiming at developing a safer form of AI. What’s all the fuss about and what should our attitude, as Christians, be toward it?
My Experience so Far
When I heard of ChatGPT I registered on its experimental site and ran a few tests. I asked it for information on a topic with which I am very familiar. It came back within seconds with a coherent response but one thing was wrong… it was wrong. It gave incorrect dates, made-up academic credentials, book titles not written by the author I had referenced, and a few other ‘guesses’. The literature on ChatGPT at that time warned that it might occasionally get things wrong by unintentionally sticking snippets of information together. I was not impressed! However, within a month the programme had been refined and incorporated into Microsoft’s Bing search engine. I have used it many times on the Bing platform of late and found it very helpful and pretty accurate… but I am still a little suspicious.
ChatGPT is a project of Open AI and within just four months they developed it from version 1 in November 2022 to version 4 in March 2023. During that time, Bard AI launched together with a plethora of smaller offerings. This is not just rapid development, it is exponential (another in-word). Decades ago, Alvin Toffler wrote a book called ‘Future Shock’ about the premature arrival of the future.
Now, the future is arriving before most of us have even heard of it, let alone worked out what its implications for us might be.
Oh, by the way, as I write this Amazon is announcing its new AI offering called Bedrock and Google reports that its latest and greatest AI, codenamed Magi, is due for release within weeks. So, by the time you read this article the acceleration of the future will have dialled up a few more points on the ‘What The Hang Is Happening’ meter. PS: As I prepare to publish this article, Apple has announced its Quartz AI, Microsoft rolled out its Copilot AI platform and IBM has released its WatsonX AI. The future is rushing towards us at an alarming speed.
Science fiction often predicts actual future events, innovations, and so on. For instance, a villain in the Terminator series was a fictional artificial neural network-based conscious AI, Skynet, bent on exterminating the human race.
Well, guess what, the AI’s of today have access to the World Wide Web and, at least in theory, have the potential of distributing themselves over the Web and infiltrating our communication networks, cellphones, and personal computers. Welcome to the premature arrival of the future! Welcome to Skynet 2025!
Indeed, the current technological world in which we live is fertile ground for a 21st-century version of Skynet. Consider this: Between 86% and 91% of the world’s population owns a smartphone and they spend between 3 and 5 hours per day accessing them – that is 25% of the awake time available! Statistics are notoriously misleading, but even if these figures are off by 20 % or more then we still have a problem.
Now here is the kicker – every modern smartphone has its own inbuilt AI (Siri, Google Assistant, Bixby, etc). Call the network they access, Skynet, WWW, or the Internet, it is still a powerful force for either good or evil, or both.
There is currently quite a bit of concern over the potential dangers of AI. Major corporations are planning to replace tens of thousands of staff members with AI, theoreticians are concerned that AI developers are giving very little attention to ethical safeguards and guidelines, and criminologists are predicting a massive increase in AI-driven crime.
Several of those who have worked in AI development for many years are also sounding the warning that we may not be able to control the AI beasts we are birthing.
The problem lies mainly in how AI is developed: AI is not just a bunch of computer codes and algorisms. Rather, it develops through a form of guided self-learning. This Machine Learning allows computers to learn and make predictions or decisions without anyone explicitly programming it to do so. It does this by using something called a Neural Network where data feeds into the input layer of the network and then passed through one or more hidden layers, where the artificial neurons process the information and pass it on to the next layer. A name assigned to this process is Deep Learning, which one researcher I listened to described as a process that takes place at a level where we cannot observe, let alone control. This is the sort of thing that gives rise to the fear that AI will soon reach the mystical Singularity Point where it becomes autonomous and even self-aware.
I will get to how we can respond to all this, but first let’s take a peek into what the scriptures have to say.
I want to make just two points here. The first is that long ago Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet, alerted us to the devil’s intentions throughout history. Here is what he wrote:
‘You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” (Isaiah 14:13-14) Isaiah was writing about the King of ancient Babylon, but in verse 12 he addresses the one who empowered the earthly potentate with the words, “How you have fallen from Heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn’. The underlying Hebrew word translated here as ‘morning star’ is heylel, which as a proper noun is ‘Lucifer’, a name for Satan.
Satan/Lucifer has from ancient times wanted to be like God and it is probably for this reason that Paul refers to him in 2 Corinthians 4
:4 as ‘the god of this age’. The triune Godhead is embodied fully in Jesus of Nazareth (Colossians 2
:9) and so Lucifer wants to embody himself on Earth as the god of this age. He wants to live among us, perform signs and wonders, rise from the dead, create life
, and be worshipped and obeyed as the Most High God.
The book of Revelation is not a cosmic calendar predicting a future timeline, but rather a pictorial symbol-based disclosure of the principles at work in all ages. However, it does move towards the climax of the ages – the unveiling of Satan on Earth and his war against the followers of Jesus, the second coming of Christ, the judgment, and the New Creation. Therefore, it does have much to say about the devil and his works. Here are a few examples:
Revelation 13:1-4: ‘And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority. One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was astonished and followed the beast. Men worshipped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshipped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?” ‘
Here the great beast is a depiction of the devil who seems to have been fatally wounded yet he lived on, as Jesus died on the cross of Calvary yet rose to life again. Then the passage continues: ‘He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast (Revelation 13:7-8) Chapter 13 of Revelation continues in verses 11-15 with: ‘Then I saw another beast, coming out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon. He exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. And he performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men. Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth. He ordered them to set up an image in honour of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed’.
Satan embodies himself on Earth through what Revelation calls The Beast and The False Prophet (In chapter 13 they are called the Beast from the Sea and the Beast from the Earth). One appears to be a ‘lamb’ (like Jesus) but speaks like a dragon (Satan). This Anti-Christ breathes life into the image of the first beast. Now Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15) and in the Genesis creation account God is shown making man in his own image (Genesis 1:26). So, is it too far a stretch to understand Satan as embodying himself on Earth and creating a new form of life in his own image? A digital life? A self-aware sentient AI?
How Then Should We Respond to this Future Shock?
In the most simplistic terms, either we can try to hide from it or we can live with it with awareness and wisdom.
- Hide from it: We could be like the Luddites of old and shun everything that smacks of The Beast – credit cards, bar codes, smartphones, computers, TV and so on. Not that this would help us because everything and everyone around us would be tainted and suspect. This is neither a reasonable nor a biblical option. Biblical option? Yes, because we are called to be ‘in the world but not of the world’ (Ref. 2 Corinthians 10:3 and 1 Peter 2:11)
- Live with awareness and wisdom: God does not ‘beam us up’ the moment we are born again of the Spirit. We remain in the world to learn to know Jesus, become like him, and help others to do likewise. The world is spiralling down a vortex that leads to the End of Days. Values, truth, and even common sense are circling the cosmic drain. We cannot be aware of this reality while being blind to what is happening around us. We cannot be wise while at the same time lacking in common sense. No, the only viable and biblical option is to live by faith and reason in this crazy world and to be the voice of reason and catalyst of faith to everyone in our circle of influence. Something we can do for ourselves and others is to develop discernment, practice healthy scepticism, and refuse to accept or pass on unsubstantiated stories and theories.
We do not need to fear technology or the premature arrival of the future. Credit cards are not evil but what they are used for could be evil. AI is not evil in itself but could be used for great evil. Using smartphones and chatbots is a problem only if it distracts us from relationships and fills our minds with negative programming… and we can say the same about television, computers, and other forms of technology.
Oh, and one last thing – If we are scared about being chipped, tracked, and the like then we might as well go live in a small and select rural community where we trade food,have NO electricity to speak of , and communicate at a distance through carrier pigeons or smoke signals.
Remember what Jesus said in prayer: “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name.” (John 17:11)