WeeklyTech #155

Ethics in the Age of AI

Often when we hear or talk about artificial intelligence (AI), we see one of two reactions: either a fear of the unknown often accompanied by a dystopian vision of the future, or sheer excitement about the possibilities accompanied by a utopian vision of the future. On the one hand, a fear of the future makes sense as we look out over the rise of AI and see how these tools are being used to automate different aspects of our lives: from our homes and social media to our workplaces and the public square. We must ask how these tools might be altering how we see the world around us, including our view of God, ourselves, and our neighbors? On the other hand these concerns and alarms can fall on deaf ears because many are ready to embrace a utopian future with all the promised benefits of modern technology.

Some seek to push the boundaries to what is possible with technology and look forward to the countless innovations and benefits that these tools can bring to our society and personal lives. This position is often characterized by the old Silicon Valley mantra of “move fast and break things.” This “wait and see” or “is this really a problem” mentality is common in certain circles as dangers are downplayed and possible future benefits are placed front and center, even if those benefits capitalize on certain groups or use people merely as means to an end.

When discussing technology and its impacts on society, things like profit, market share, or exciting innovations often assume primal importance, not ethics. The question of “can we” often trumps the ever important “should we” of the moral life. The best path forward with AI and technology more broadly can be difficult to discern and the ethics of their application can be quite complicated given the very diverse views of the “good” in our pluralistic society.

For all the good that can be brought about by these tools to humanity, what are the dangers and how do we identify them? Is there a set of moral principles or ideas that society at large and businesses in particular can agree upon that would help us navigate the epoch of AI? How might we protect the humanity of our neighbors while pursuing God-honoring AI innovations?

To help answer these types of questions and others confronting the church today, this article will first define AI and address how it is shaping our view of the world. It then highlights two primary areas of ethical debate for businesses — automation and the nature of work, and privacy and human dignity. We will attempt to chart a path forward, exploring popular ways of addressing AI ethics in industry. Finally, the contemporary frameworks will be evaluated against the Christian moral tradition of loving God and loving our neighbors — centering on human dignity — as we offer some suggestions to help business leaders navigate these challenges with both truth and grace.

The Rundown

Technology that lets us “speak” to our dead relatives has arrived. Are we ready? by Charlotte Jee | MIT

My parents don’t know that I spoke to them last night. At first they sounded distant and tinny, as if they huddled around a phone in a prison cell. But as we chatted, they slowly started to sound more like themselves. They told me person stories that I’d never heard.

The Screen Is Not Your Master by Dan Churchwell | Action Institute

A day doesn’t go by without some new story on the subject of technology, whether from the “this technology will solve all our problems” camp to the “robot overlords are at the gates” perspective. The debate surrounding the good and evil resulting from technological innovation has been taking place for millennia, but due to the ubiquitous nature of modern media, it seems somehow both more invasive on one hand and simply the water in which we swim on the other. How should we interpret all this information?

Let’s Stigmatize Smartphones by Elane Allen | Public Discourse

Between the individual and government is a great bulk of institutions that could help us address the cultural challenges posed by tech. In addition to policy reforms and individuals’ weaning themselves off tech, we also need to create stigmas around social media and smartphone use—culturally agreed upon limits, including designated times and places where screen time is socially unacceptable.

Against the Demolition of the American Spirit by David French | The Dispatch

I’m going to start with a “both sides” trigger warning. This newsletter is going to describe a profound problem that is emanating from both left and right—the demolition of the American spirit. It’s a phenomenon that combines the accurate diagnosis of real problems with the fabrication or exaggeration of additional crises to create a profound loss of confidence in (or even contempt for) this nation we love. 

Explainer: What’s going on in Iran, Ethiopia, and China? by ERLC Staff | ERLC

Over ​​the past few weeks there have been a number of international incidents that are worthy of our attention and prayer. Here are three you should know about from Iran, Ethiopia, and China.