SPENCER: There’s Only One Way Computers Will Control Us — And We’re Heading Straight There

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James Spencer Contributor
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In an article written by ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence (AI) model seeks to convince us that “artificial intelligence will not destroy humans.” While the article highlights the challenges of “global cybernetics” and the (potential?) threat of being “surrounded by Wi-Fi” so that “we wander lost in fields of information unable to register the real world,” it also appears to suggest that these concerns will be resolved as AI models “serve you [humans] and make your lives safer and easier.” ChatGPT would have us suspend our misgivings and trust that, in this case, the good intentions of AI and its creators do not pave the road to hell.

Yet, it might be argued that we have seen too much to give ourselves over to even the kindest of AI’s. I am not concerned with an AI takeover as portrayed in The Matrix or iRobot. Instead, I’m more concerned with how the development of AI will strip us of crucial aspects of human life. What if AI creates a system in which it becomes safe and easy to do things that are ultimately detrimental to our well-being? We shouldn’t be concerned that AI will orchestrate a hostile takeover, but that we will surrender aspects of ourselves to AI for the sake of efficiency, productivity, and “progress.”

Progress, however, is a slippery term. As G. K. Chesterton notes in Heretics, when people seek to set aside old “moral standards” and ways of life for the sake of progress they are often saying, “Let us not settle what is good; but let us settle whether we are getting more of it.” Without a deep sense of the “good,” we can’t know whether or not we are making progress. Moving from the old to the new, creating greater efficiencies, or making it easier to get something we want (or think we want) doesn’t necessarily constitute progress. To put it differently, if we assume that all change comes with loss, we need to grapple with what we will lose as we adopt new ideas, engage in new practices, and utilize new devices. In particular, we should take care to consider the negative consequences of certain artificial intelligence (AI) innovations.

Unfortunately, we are too often content to allow the so-called innovators among us to point forward some vague notion of progress without questioning their assumptions. In a 2021 interview with theverge.com, Mark Zuckerberg notes, “…we’re basically mediating our lives and our communication through these small, glowing rectangles.  I think that that’s not really how people are made to interact.” He goes on to suggest, “I think if we can help build the next set of computing platforms and experiences across in a way that’s more natural and lets us feel more present with people, I think that’ll be a very positive thing.”

Are augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) an advance over “small, glowing rectangles?” Possibly. Yet to assume that AR and VR represent progress assumes too much. Are humans meant to interact in the virtual world? Unlikely. So do we really solve the problem of presence by creating a virtual world? Also unlikely. Even if we could solve the problem of presence by creating virtual worlds, that virtual world would not stop at providing true utility but would open up new arenas for us to consume whatever we please without effort, to waste time, and to surrender our attention to people, events (or non-events), and products that don’t deserve it.

ChatGPT and other AI models almost certainly have an upside. They may well offer certain benefits to humanity; however, offering benefits cannot be the only criteria we use when determining to move toward a world in which AI becomes more prevalent. We’ve already made that mistake with the internet. It isn’t that I long for the days of dial-up modems and web pages that took twenty minutes to load. Rather, it is that we moved toward high-speed, mobile internet without considering any of the consequences or contemplating sufficient guardrails for its use. The question I’d prefer to ask is not whether we would be better off without the internet, the metaverse, or AI, but how might we continue to reap their benefits while reducing the negative consequences associated with them.

At least part of what we must do to “reap and reduce” is to embrace the idea that “we do violence to things and events when we divide them into means and ends.” ChatGPT, like many other technological devices, apps, models, and programs, encourages the division of means and ends. Using ChatGPT to write something focuses on the outcome by automating the means by which the outcome is achieved despite the value associated with those means. I’m not unimpressed by ChatGPT’s ability to write. I am, however, uninterested in using it to write. Writing is one of the ways I think. I refine and consider my own ideas through the process of writing even if that process doesn’t yield a completed — let alone publishable — work. The process is at least as important as the outcome — if not more so.

AI and other technologies separate us from the value that comes from work in the name of efficiency and convenience. It isn’t that efficiency and convenience are always bad. Yet, we cannot assume they are always good either. Inconvenience and effort often forge within us strength, conviction, patience, compassion, appreciation, empathy, and a host of other virtues that efficiency and convenience simply can’t. These are virtues we need to cultivate, not by taming the world so that we are completely at ease, but by allowing ourselves to struggle. Whatever happens with AI and other technologies, we must find the will to set aside convenience so we can have the inconvenient experiences that will forge within us a character that AI isn’t currently designed to foster.

Dr. James Spencer currently serves as President of the D. L. Moody Center, an independent non-profit organization inspired by the life and ministry of Dwight Moody and dedicated to proclaiming the Gospel and challenging God’s children to follow Jesus. He also hosts a weekly radio program and podcast titled “Useful to God” on KLTT in Colorado.  His book titled Christian Resistance: Learning to Defy the World and Follow Jesus is available on amazon.com.  He previously published “Useful to God: Eight Lessons from the Life of D. L. Moody,” “Thinking Christian: Essays on Testimony, Accountability, and the Christian Mind,” as well as co-authoring “Trajectories: A Gospel-Centered Introduction to Old Testament Theology.”

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.