The results have been so remarkable it has led to speculations that the college essay is dead and about the future of many skilled jobs. Indeed, computer programmers may be programming themselves out of a job. A system called Copilot takes input prompts and generates computer code, leading some to speculate about the end of programming. While rumors of the demise of the essay and of programming are likely exaggerated, there will be definite impacts for higher education. How should we modify our writing assignments and academic integrity policies when student have access to AI-generated text? Could we use AI-generated text for critical assessment exercises that might help students write (and code) better? Although these questions will require wider faculty discussions, what follows are three general guidelines as we discern a Christian response to AI.
First, we need to avoid the pitfalls of viewing technology with either too much optimism or with undue pessimism. We must reject a reductionistic worldview that sees all problems as reduceable to technical problems that can be solved by technology. A trust in technology, sometimes referred to as technicism, is essentially a form of idolatry.
AI is part of the latent potential in creation, and we are called to responsibly unfold its possibilities. Theologian Al Wolters writes that “the Bible is unique in its uncompromising rejection of all attempts . . . to identify part of creation as either the villain or the savior.”5
Second, rather than focusing on what AI can do, we need to start with an ontological question: how are people distinct from machines? A common tendency is to anthropomorphize our machines, thereby elevating the status of our machines and, in doing so, reducing the distinctiveness of human beings.
In his book, Humans Are Underrated, Geoff Colvin suggests asking the following question: “What are the activities that we humans, driven by our deepest nature or by the realities of daily life, will simply insist be performed by other humans, regardless of what computers can do?”7 An AI chatbot or robot should never substitute for human wisdom, care, or companionship. Without a biblically informed ontological grounding, we will be susceptible to various reductionistic philosophies like physicalism and Gnosticism.8
Third, we need to discern norms for the responsible use of AI. The creators of ChatGPT bumped up against the “AI Alignment” problem—the challenge of aligning an AI system with the goals and values of the designers.
Fred Brooks, a respected Christian computer scientist, wrote, “It is time to recognize that the original goals of AI were not merely extremely difficult, they were goals that, although glamorous and motivating, sent the discipline off in the wrong direction.”14 Brooks advocates for IA (Intelligence Amplifying) systems over AI, suggesting people and machines will be able to do far more than AI alone.
Despite the possibilities for sinful distortions, AI is part of the exciting possibilities in creation that Christians can help direct in God-honoring ways. Christians will need to join the wider dialogue surrounding these powerful new technologies, bringing insights into what it means to be human and to help shape public policy with a voice that is both biblical and relevant.15
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