Seven Things You Need to Know Right Now About Artificial Intelligence

By Tom Gilson Published on March 11, 2024

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Artificial intelligence is multiplying — rather, erupting — upon us all. And we aren’t ready for it. If you aren’t worried about what it’s about to do to our society, you should be. And yet, on the other hand, if you aren’t capitalizing today on the new outreach opportunities this will give the Body of Christ, I hope tomorrow you will begin to research that. The world has always needed the Church, but the time is coming soon when the unchurched will see their need for Christ more clearly than ever.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but a science YouTuber named Kyle Hill recently brought my attention back to it again. He’s young, he’s highly creative, he’s enthusiastic about science, he’s not the least bit religious, and he even has an AI character introducing some of his episodes. In all those ways, Hill is the right type of person to be excited over AI.

In past videos he’s expressed mixed views on it: concern coupled with cautious hope. No more, though: He’s fully freaked out now. We’re not ready for it, he says, and it’s too late for getting ready.

His alarm is remarkable. I wish I could think he was wrong, but he isn’t.

Still I see good coming from it, if God’s people act wisely. Here are seven things you need to know today about artificial intelligence.

1. Counterfeit Image of God

The world has never seen a threat like Generative or LLM (short for “Large Language Model”) AI. You need to know those terms: They’re nearly synonymous names for the kind of AI represented by ChatGPT and Google Gemini.

Most of the worry I’ve seen over AI has to do with job loss. If you’ve lost your livelihood to a bot, I grieve with you over that. In the big picture, though, the greater concern is the speed and scale of disruption AI is bringing upon us. Even more worrisome is the way it’s displacing the very idea of what it means to be human. AI threatens to confuse us over who we are as humans and why it matters — and to supplant life with death, especially online.

We are unique. That never used to be controversial. We can think, we can feel, we can make free choices, and we can do all these things in real relationships with real moral significance in the eyes of God. No other plant, animal, or machine can do anything like that. This is what it means to be created in His image.

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But now with AI, we have history’s history’s first convincing human counterfeit, sweeping the planet at astonishing speed. Can you believe LLM AIs first appeared only a year ago?

And I really do mean “appeared”: AI appears to be able to think, decide, and feel. But it’s just an appearance. “Artificial” still means artificial.

2. Artificiality

Still, it does its fakery well enough to convince otherwise brilliant people that humanity is no longer unique in the world. Scientists and philosophers even tell us of a coming “super-intelligence,” far exceeding anything human, both in knowledge and in wisdom. Bestselling author and World Economic Forum advisor Yuval Noah Harari looks forward (start at 7:30 here) to an AI-written “sacred text” that we could all finally agree was written by a “superior intelligence.”

It’s a sham, of course. ChatGPT and other AIs can deliver pixels to the screen with ease. We read those pixels as factual information, but to the machine, it’s just voltage variances produced at the end of a complicated but fully mechanical series of interacting logic gates and voltage states on silicon chips. AIs can’t think of it as anything but that, because they simply can’t think. They know nothing, feel nothing, decide nothing.

The prophet Isaiah marveled at the foolishness of those who would cut down a tree, burn half the wood for fuel, and craft the rest of it into an idol for worship. I marvel today at those who declare silicon chips, logic gates, and voltage states to be “intelligent.” The day we start looking to it for wisdom is the day we turn our humanity over to an idol.

3. Serious Potential for Abuse

And that’s exactly what too many are doing, unaware of how quickly it’s growing beyond all control. Today’s LLMs produce as much text in two weeks as humans have written in books since the dawn of writing.

Experts predict that within a year, more than half of online material will be AI-generated. AI is about to overwhelm the digital world — a world that for many is way too near to being the only one they know.

Hill looks to a frightening yet very possible scenario coming as soon as this year: A political activist commissions a thousand AI bots to create a thousand online “identities,” all of them commenting on each other’s social media posts, conducting podcast interviews with each other, and doing the same on sites and social media platforms with actual human sources.

Their “views” will start sounding like “what everyone thinks.” Hill does not call this sci-fi, nor even a “future scenario.” The technology exists now. To set it up takes no time at all. We should be more surprised if it doesn’t happen than if it does. Indeed, a full-on AI arms race, with bot “identities” battling other bot “identities” by the thousands, would come as no surprise.

4. Trust’s Last Gasp?

Once upon a time, we could believe our eyes online. Fake videos looked fake, or else their special effects were too slow or expensive to multiply in large numbers. Now you need a special kind of discernment to believe a video came from human sources, and that its content hasn’t been faked. The same goes for text, obviously

So you can bid farewell to whatever grain of trust you had left in social media, YouTube, or just about any site where you can’t be certain of human authorship.

5. The Dead Web

If that isn’t bleak enough for you, Hill speaks of the AI-dominated internet as the “Dark Forest” where predators prowl and from which people rarely emerge alive. It’s fast becoming the “dead internet,” he says. Very soon the majority of the internet will be dead machines talking to dead machines. Soon after, that will be the vast majority of the internet.

You will still find real humanity online, hiding in pockets of trust, secured by whatever remaining uniquely human language is still available. Maybe it will be new slang created every week, faster than the bots can keep up with.

Those who live large portions of their lives online, however, will increasingly find it a space of artificiality, distrust, and deadness.

6. Our Shining Opportunity

If it sounds all bad, I’d say humanly speaking that’s close to the truth. We must never forget that “humanly speaking” can never come close to the full truth. Reality is infinitely bigger than what we see and touch and hear. Reality always wins, because God Himself is the core center of reality. Fakes don’t stand a chance with Him.

And I believe the day is coming quickly when fakes won’t stand a chance with people either.  We’re going to grow weary of the artificiality, the deadness, and the pretense that machines can be as human as we are.

I believe people will tire of this, and they’ll begin looking for real life, real truth, and real relationship. That’s our opportunity. This is exactly what we, the Body of Christ, specialize in.

I believe people will tire of this, and they’ll begin looking for real life, real truth, and real relationship. That’s our opportunity. This is exactly what we, the Body of Christ, specialize in. We have the life of Christ to offer, as we always have, but now we can also say we can offer true humanity, too, in knowing God as our Creator and loving Redeemer.

What better place is there than a good church to rediscover humanness? Churches are for being together, meeting God together, learning together, serving together in true community.

7. Where the Ordinary Becomes Extraordinary

Those who have tired of fakery and deadness will find that attractive. For us as believers, it’s protection from the darkness of the dead web.

Kyle Hill is rightly freaked out over AI. It’s going to be hard on us. In Christ, though, it’s also an opportunity to display the goodness of the Gospel in all its glory and reality, together with all of Christ’s people

So I remain hopeful. I dream of churches everywhere becoming known as extraordinarily good places to find something that good churches do ordinarily. We build communities of reality. May God bring more people in.

 

Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the highly acclaimed Too Good To Be False: How Jesusโ€™ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.

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