Will the Future of AI Intersect With the Future of Christian Martyrdom?
Johnnie Moore and Jerry Pattengale’s The New Book of Christian Martyrs tells stirring stories of Christians following Christ to the very end. In two previous Stream articles I have covered the book’s view of martyrs down through history to the present day. What’s ahead, though?
Moore has concerns relating particularly to artificial intelligence. In March he did an interview with CBN highlighting his concerns about AI. How AI may intersect with persecution and with martyrdom is a question mostly for the future, although China’s authoritarian mass surveillance system already gives us an ominous picture of what it can be.
In his CBN interview Moore spoke of positives AI could bring to the world, but he also explained the potential for the creation of autonomous weapons: weapons that make their own decisions on whom to kill, and when.
“Imagine governments in a race towards autonomous weapons,” Moore said to CBN’s Billy Hallowell. “We could be moving into a world where the machines make the decisions for themselves. They decide — if they’re optimized to kill — you know, what’s the most effective way to kill.” He explained how North Korea could conceivably obtain the technology for autonomous weapons, whether by their own innovation or by theft. “What could happen?” he asked. It’s a good question. North Korea is the No. 1 persecutor of Christians, according to the World Watch List 2023.
Near the end of our interview, I posed the question, “Do you see an intersection of the future of AI and the future of martyrdom?” (Their answers are lightly edited here, for clarity and brevity).
Johnnie Moore: Yeah, I actually do. I mean we are — we are entering into a period of time in history that no one has ever experienced before. The AI revolution in technology is totally, totally transformative. And you know, if you think I’m exaggerating, pull this video up about 18 months from now and — we’re already seeing things that people don’t fully, fully comprehend.
One of the things about AI is an authoritarian country which decides they want to hunt down and kill all the Christians in the most efficient way possible. It’s very easy to do, if you have the right technology. And so, you know … without getting too deep into the technology of it, we are entering a period of time where if our leaders don’t make wise decisions, technology can make decisions for itself based upon what we’ve told it to do. And then eventually what it thinks is best. And unfortunately, history reminds us that technology and power don’t always go well together.
My own personal mentor on human rights is a rabbi from the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Simon Wiesenthal lost something like 89 members of his family in the Holocaust. He was an architect. He could have made a fortune in the aftermath of that horrible time period in history, investing his time and energy into rebuilding Europe and making money for himself. He didn’t. He invested the rest of his life in hunting down every Nazi he could possibly find that imagined, and tried, to wipe every Jew off of earth.
Rabbi Cooper often recounts a story where he sat with Simon Wiesenthal at a university in Ohio. The students asked, “Could this happen again?” And Mr. Wiesenthal said it absolutely could happen again … if evil is allowed to flourish and if the right technology exists.
I’m afraid we are moving way, way, too quickly. So, this is absolutely why I joined my voice with Elon Musk and a number of the top scientists and and technologists and professors around the world in signing a letter calling for a six-month pause on these gigantic machine learning projects, so we can get our hands around something, because this one we might not be able to stop.
Jerry Pattengale: Yeah and I would just hitchhike on that. When you read back into history, when you read Night by Elie Wiesel, there wouldn’t be a Night had they had better technology and were more efficient in the way they were killing everyone. It’s behind me here. I just read Unstoppable, [another] great book about just a phenomenal individual who survived Auschwitz. There’s no way he would have lived had they had better technology. And so I think that we can think through that.
Speaking of technology … We’ve been able to work with the original Foxe books. I was sitting in Cambridge with these big volumes, and my heart was heavy, and long days, just these horrible stories, and just trying to get a feel for the whole project. This was years ago. And I [got a] text — John, I don’t know if it was from you, or somebody — telling me that Scorsese’s film Silence was hitting Cambridge that night. And so, I left and went over straight from reading Foxe, these ancient accounts, to a modern account of the Japanese martyrs.
I’ll never forget. I walk in. There’s maybe two families and me total in the whole place. People don’t want to hear about persecutions. I mean, it’s just, it’s just tough. And all of a sudden I smell popcorn. And then as the movie went on, as people are being crucified in the tar pits, these kids are kind of just asking their parents for more candy. And they go back out for some more refreshments.
On the screen was the best technology possible in presenting this picture. It was a powerful story. He did a good job telling it it. It was kind of depressing.
But at the same time is that it’s that angst between living and enjoying life and the realities of evil. And the difference between good and evil and a call to the cross for those who believe in Christ.
I left there saddened. I don’t think I slept that night.
Moore: And this is why it’s also important to say that as Christians, we don’t oppose innovation. I’m like [an] AI fanatic. I think AI is going to cure every disease that is persistent, you know that we can’t figure things out. I think it’s going to transform our lives in incredibly powerful ways and incredibly positive ways. But its current trajectory is one that’s going to rob us of all of those opportunities unless we get our hands around it.
This book, The New Book of Christian Martyrs is a reminder that evil is with us in every single period of history. It just had limiting factors. The Christians could hide underground. People could flee, all of these things.
The United States is way, way, way in advance on AI. We can take a break for a couple of months without losing ground to make sure that we have the safeguards in in place.
And ultimately as Christians, I mean, we have every reason to be optimistic when it’s all said and done. But as people of faith, it is in our domain to talk about the ethics on lots of things, including this thing. So thanks for asking that question.
Find the other two parts of The Stream’s series on The New Book of Christian Martyrs here.