Friday 19 July 2024

The Name Calling Of Goods and Services

When you challenge the zeitgeist of churches using technology, a fairly predictable script emerges.

"If we can't use (X) that means that (Y) must also be forbidden."

"Y", is often a bombastic or hyperbolic example. Used to add absurdity to what I promise is a valid line of concern and questioning regarding tech use in the church. Question the use of something like the internet, and often, the response is that then we have to question the use of the Bible itself since it too is a form of technology. The apples and oranges wiggle together and we have ourselves a nice fruit salad of theological mush. Not formed enough to be spiritual meat but not reformed enough to be soul food and casserole.

What's happened here is a certain type of pastor has midwitted his way past an honest layman making trouble by asking questions. He did so because he doesn't see or hear the difference between any kind of technology. To him, his theology of a brick is his theology of a laptop. It's neat and tidy and all-encompassing. Allowing him to do what literally everyone else is doing with his tech but to feel like that is what tech does all by itself.

But for the sake of argument, let's pick up a guitar and try to worship our way out of this false dichotomy.

I've said before, that tech is not neutral because it's not made or used by neutral people. So, what is the difference between an acoustic guitar playing amazing grace and an electric one? Surely we can't pick a technological fight with one without embroiling the other in the brawl. They are both pieces of technology that we are using for worship music. We can't get mad at one without getting mad at the other. Right?

Well, yes we can. Because one is a musical instrument and the other is a service styled like a musical instrument.

This difference between goods (the guitar) and a service (the electric guitar) is hard to see at first because they are both real-life things. The electric guitar looks like the acoustic guitar in enough ways that you can tell their cousins, and likely cousins that shouldn't marry if they were Mennonites. There are too many similarities to outright call them essentially different things. But put them both on stage and they do very different things. The acoustic guitar plays six strings with chords and picks single strings to accent them, it strums and tunes and behaves like a guitar does. And the electric guitar can barely be heard from the stage.

"Wait." The church sound guy says. "You need to plug it into the amp."

"Wait, you need the plug the amp into the electrical outlet."

"Wait, you need to plug the amp into the sound system."

"Wait, are you using effects pedals? you need to plug them in too."

"Wait, we need to do a sound check."

There are more wait's in waiting but I don't mean to keep you.

What just happened here? These two instruments are conceptually the same things. Six strings, fretboard, pegs, hardwood fixtures, mother-of-pearl inlays, and a PVC pickguard. And the best electric guitars seem to be hollow-bodied just like the acoustic ones. About the only tangible difference is one has the microphone built into it, technically. What's with all this waiting.

Because goods come as they are and services come with conditions.

The sun will dry your clothes for free and reliably every day. So long as the rain is not giving them an extra rinse. But solar power, to run your dryer, needs specific angles and hours of sunlight to charge specific batteries and off-grid systems, built by specifically trained tradesmen who hang their coveralls out to dry in the sun.

A Tesla only looks like a car. Anyone with a real car can tell you this. But those that bit the magic EV bullet from Mr. Musk aren't driving cars. They're being driven by A.I. and what is ostensibly a phone app on more expensive hardware. You can tell that they are being driven by the way you can't idly hit someone because the car will decide your driving needs to stop. My everyday driver can hit people and requires a sacrifice of my sinful desires to drive in a straight line and swerve when necessary. It can't stop me from sinning because it's a car and I'm a sinner. It's also fully capable of sinning, fully capable of doing sinful things. But doesn't because it's a car not a service of a car. 

My 1.8-litre Toyota Echo and its neighbour of a work truck, a domestic 6.7-liter Dodge Ram 2500, are the kinds of cousins that can't have extra fun at family reunions. They are versions of each other and are what every car since Great Grampy Ford Model T left the assembly line were. And the best part is they know it. The Dodge doesn't try anything with its Japanese cousin because the relationship is too close, and vice versa. So, they both sneak into the pantry for snacks and not other things that involve mouths and tongues. They don't cause the kinds of problems that a more complicated machine can cause when it's made to look like something simpler.

But the Tesla, is something else. It comes to the family reunion like a newcomer and with conditions. Like the kind you get from your mother when you want to bring the new girlfriend to said reunion. She might look like everyone else there, two eyes, one nose, and a fondness for casserole and sweet tea. But she isn't family unless an entirely new set of conditions are met. She can take the Dodge to the pantry and get in a lot more trouble because there are less relations, and that strangeness is the fuel for that trouble when not addressed. No one bats an eye at Dodge and Toyota being in a room alone together. They're family. But people wonder what that Ram is doing with his bedroom door closed with the Cyber Truck every time she comes over. We all have heard the joke that that family of cars spells S3XY, better keep the door open, Mr. Musk.

The guitar like the voice is a relation to music outright. The voice makes sound and with a bit of training the guitar makes sound too and that sound can be joyful and the delight of the Lord. 

The difference between a mic'd acoustic guitar and an electric guitar is one is an amplified version of the genuine article. The other is a manipulated version of the genuine article. One is made for and used to the end in its purpose. The other is an end in itself leading to other purposes and other ends. As many ends as you could fit into an effects pedal, to be exact. This is an important distinction because of the lack of distinguishing between what goods are and what services are. Goods are actual things in time and space. And services aren't. Services are concepts that pull goods in as their fuel. Services are what give you the security of never having to worry about hitting a pedestrian, by removing your right to repair your own vehicle, or drive. Services are what let you play a worship song, exactly, literally, like Hillsong and Bethel play their songs, at the cost of having to own and operate a litany of tech to support the idea of that song in the first place. A fragile system that often goes down mid-song the way a hymnal and a choir never seemed to.

What we then call the goods in our lives and the services matters. Because it's only by saying things are alright when they are not, that we get ourselves in trouble. It wasn't until we said we could "gather" online that we dared to try sharing communion with ourselves and a screen. We would never try to share communion over a postcard or letter to the Corinthians, but pen and paper are conceptually understood as the kind of goods that can't provide those services. But when given enough stimuli, a screen that tastes nothing like the bread and speakers that taste nothing like wine, convinced us that we could do a communal and metaphorical meal, with our gathered body of believers at home, with wine and bread we didn't actually share with them communally.

You all did it a few years back in the hopes that it was at least permissible to do. Tech convinced you to enter into a form of worship and sacrament, during a pandemic, that was drastically different than what was theologically correct. And it did so because it's what technological services do. They beg you to use them. Beg you to try it out to see if they can satisfy your needs and desires. They're an attractive newcomer asking for help in the pantry to get the honey, and their features and services look as smooth as they are. Which is the problem. 

"Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.

Romans 16:17-19 KJV

The church saw the internet in its time of need or maybe better put desire and saw that it could provide the service of Sunday mornings and communion with very little tweaks to what we did on Sunday mornings and during communion. It saw that bread on a screen and bread on a charger looked almost the same so they called it the same and let the electric guitar do a slightly longer solo because it was good for engagement on the livestream.

But what the church didn't do during COVID, was communion. Because it wasn't together, no one shared bread, no one passed the cup, and some of us ate later because the live stream was recorded. It provided a service instead of practicing good. Until the church can rightly make these kinds of distinctions. We will have the kinds of things that went sideways during COVID go sideways without it. 

For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? what shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.

But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.

1 Corinthians 11:21-22, 28-29 KJV

Monday 20 May 2024

A Response to Andy Crouch's "A Redemptive Thesis for Artificial Intelligence"

I had the pleasure of reading this thesis and think that what Andy and the Praxis guys are close to, is an understanding of what a Christian's relationship should be towards A.I. They frame it as a plot of new ground for entrepreneurs and venture-oriented investors, and have laid out a list of assumptions and directions for where A.I. is headed now, and where their coined term, Redemptive A.I., will and should head in the future. 

To be blunt there are some shortcomings in the approach they've taken in this thesis. Not in intent but in intellectual projection of what they say and think A.I. is and what it can do, versus what it is and will likely do given what we're seeing so far. 

My interaction with this piece is merely an attempt to broaden the platform from which Christians are viewing the thoughts our faith has and spreads in relation to this kind of topic. And is in no way a criticism of the men that were a part of this thesis' composition or the good work they do. For clarity's sake, I have not removed any part of the article so a clear commentary of the piece can be made. 

I am also, to be blunt, a small fish in the tank of those with vested interests in tech and taith. Consider these observations the same way you would a dog who barks because he's a dog. A comparison I shamelessly steal from Douglas Wilson on why he also writes. 

First, the six assumptions.

"Six Assumptions

We begin with the following assumptions. We are well aware that each requires a measure of faith — that is, each is based on a certain amount of evidence that warrants our belief, though none can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt."

This was a nice disclaimer and frames the conversation to follow well. This isn't tech bros talking about this thing called A.I. This is Christians doing that same thing, who may also be tech bros at the same time.

"1. The enduring image

Human beings are, and for the duration of the human story will uniquely remain, entrusted with bearing the image of God. Our ability to discover physical and mathematical patterns in our cosmos, and to develop science and technology that make the most of those patterns, is one of the intended fruits of this image-bearing vocation, meant for the glory of God, the good of our fellow human beings, and the flourishing of creation itself."

This sounds right unless you are willing to take the same conceptualizations they will present in assumption number 4, and apply it to their reasoning in this first assumption. To say that A.I. is as consequential as other advances humankind has made technologically, specifically in agriculture, sends us to the scriptures to look for what such things fit with the narrative. Of bringing God glory and bearing His image. This language from Genesis skips over our first technology. Clothes. One that was not made as a fruit of our image bearing vocation and glorification of God, but rather in shame and rebellion from the clear instruction of the Lord on our vocation and patterns of life. This was likely not done on purpose by Crouch and Co., but it would also be short-sighted to overlook the harvesting of fig leaves and the weaving into patterns, to accomplish what Adam and Eve did as an immediate response to their realization of sin, good, and evil. 

As would be the necessary redemption of that technology by God. Covering them with the skins of animals as they would begin their image-bearing vocation as sinners. Waiting and contributing to the coming of a Messiah in the future. 

Indeed God's will seems to be that technology in general is to be redeemed, but that redemption is more than just intent. While it's possible that God gave them the skins of animals with no animals being killed in the process. It is more likely that they were shown the cost of sin and God chose to illustrate that cost against the technology they presented as an initial response to their sin. He would show them that sacrificial death brings them back into fellowship with God, even after it forced them out of the garden. But that it would also point to Christ in concept. As the fruit of that sacrifice would be the animal skins they now could wear in place of their fig leaves. 

For us to assert that like the good creation that was made by God before the fall, our technological progress and thinking follow suit, we need to be able to demonstrate that these capabilities would have been or were present before the fall as well. I am open to directions to verses that demonstrate this. But until then, I think this assertion falls short.

"2. A pattern of deceptions

In the course of the human story we have become captive to a pattern of deceptions that have corrupted the divine image, compromised our ability to pursue or even know what is best for us, and distorted our application of mathematics and science. We have acted as if we can live independently of God, and the life of love that God offers and commands, with no harm and indeed great benefit to ourselves (this is the most fundamental pattern, known as the sin of pride). More specifically, the “modern” world has been founded on the quest to secure good things for ourselves through some form of pure technique that does not require relationship — with others or with God (this is the ancient allure of and quest for magic, uniquely enabled in modernity by what we call technology). Likewise, modern economies have effectively subordinated all other goods, to the extent they are acknowledged at all, to the pursuit of financial wealth that purports to give us abundance without dependence (the seduction of Mammon). Insofar as we are all caught up in these patterns of false belief and behavior, God is dishonored, human beings are degraded and violated, and creation is exploited and diminished."

This assumption hits the nail on the head like it were a fully loaded roofer's gun. What Andy sees in the application of "pure technique" is a concept I wish most Christians would grasp a bit more fully. Especially considering it's a nail gun and all.

What Technology does at every level is abstract us from the task, problem, and work, that lies before us. And the pursuit of a technique that can do such, only serves God's purposes when it is powered, like the nail gun, by the natural world constrained to do unrelated work. Compressed air has all the force of its wild and free relative in the hurricane, but is held in mankind's dominion over the earth itself to build houses instead of tearing them down. 

In this example, the roofer needs a degree of control over his tools to exercise the technique they provide, in order to provide the good that they can accomplish for people who need roofs. The level of abstraction from a man swinging a hammer and holding nails is close enough to see. The roofer armed with the nail gun does his job better and faster. And as such enjoys the common grace of God when he does so for the good of other people. Because good works point to the greatest good worker, God. As the roofer does so he isn't fostering secrecy to invoke a sense of unbelief in what he is doing. That would be the "magic" Crouch writes about. But instead displays technique in a different light. Skill. Which is something God gives us (Ex 31:1-3)

As technology abstracts us away from the work, it also abstracts us away from the skill used to do that work and as such makes the process less understandable. Eventually, the robot roofers of the future with built-in air-powered nail guns will construct houses in what seems like a magically short amount of time. And if they do so for the profits of some while decimating the incomes of the roofers themselves, what will have is a worship of Mammon and a sacrifice of the roofers to appease such a god.

"3. Very good and also very distorted

AI, like other scientific and technical advances, is part of the “very good” world that human beings are meant to steward and extend. It is a significant advance on much previous technology in the way it recapitulates the patterns of learning and cognition that arose in the course of the development of life (especially the nervous system and the brain). In the case of Large Language Models and similar systems, it also is able to incorporate (via training data) much of the vast achievement of human culture. In this way it is potentially a profound and fruitful extension of human image-bearing, and like other major cultural achievements (such as the invention of writing) it can be expected to unlock good potentialities of the created and cultivated world that were previously inaccessible. But it is also, inevitably, subject to the patterns of deception — including the patterns it has absorbed from its training data — that will tend to bend its outputs and its users in corrupting directions."

I think the word "deception" is doing too much work here. Which is why the idea of using A.I. for good has a friction to it. It's not that we've been tainted by Sci-Fi movies and examples that suggest A.I. will be evil. It's that we don't want to come to terms with A.I. being a product of evil people. Because we are those people.

To say something is very good but also very distorted is a clear contradiction of terms. Contradiction can be a great place for wisdom. I have such a contradictive piece hanging on my office wall. A Picasso print called "Guitar, spring 1913". It shows various cubes of colour and a barely recognizable sheet of music to make an abstract image that makes you think. Until you hear the word guitar in the title and then see what the master was making, and the scene makes sense even through his abstraction. 

When we call something distorted, however, this implies that there is a pristine A.I. that exists as a reference point. Made by pristine hands for pristine purposes. We all know we have no such example. But we all desperately want this to be the case. We all want virgin tech to be as pristine as the nature that is so obviously good. Like the way a mountain forest is beautiful in spring through to winter, life and death. That's because the forest is a part of the good creation and the A.I. is part of what sinful humans do to that Creation. All the things that we know God created as good are things God created without us and are good because of our absence. But A.I. is created by us after those good things. It is made by using those good things. It is a work of mankind, not a natural resource made by the hand of God. And this blurring of the line between the very good natural world and the works of sinful man would indeed be a distortion. But we have a word for this distortion. Sin. Tech is not part of the good world God created, it is the work of sinful men who, without Christ, distort that world.

Crouch understands parts of this as he recognizes the dangers involved with the data sets these A.I. are trained on. Of which no small amount of human sinfulness will be present, even if it's not named as such. But framing the issues A.I. presents to us, without naming it properly as a "works" not a thing of God's own creation, is problematic and would change this and other assumptions in this list as well.    

"4. As consequential as the Internet — or electricity — or agriculture

While the scope of AI’s full potential is not yet clear, it is reasonable to believe that it is as consequential a technological development as the Internet (developed and deployed 1990–2010). But we should consider the likelihood that it will prove as consequential as electricity (1850–1950), and the possibility that it will prove as consequential as agriculture (the “neolithic revolution,” 8,500–6,500 years before the present day). Insofar as all of these were the result of image bearers extending the “very good” world, they created genuine common wealth that continues to benefit humanity and creation; but all of them were also subordinated to foolish and prideful visions, leading to significant damage to human beings, human societies, and the created world; and almost all of their most significant consequences could not have been foreseen by their early inventors and innovators. We can expect all this to be true of AI as well."

My only issue with this assumption is the blanket statement at the end about the consequences of tech not being foreseen. Yes, there were unintended consequences of the production of agriculture, over the span of nearly 10,000 years, No one in 600 hundred BC would bat an eye at the concept of genetically modified food, or know what you were talking about. Even if you managed to find a Rosetta stone to translate the concept backward. Yes, men like Franklin, Edison, and Tesla, bottled lightning and made it into a consumer good, not knowing what it would be used for later down the line, Yes, no one invented the protocols of the early Internet as far back as 1970, likely envisioned the kinds of debauchery and sin you average 10 year old can find and is exposed to via their contributions to the world wide web.

But every person who can think about A.I. has access to the consequences of what A.I. can do. Because we share the intelligence that A.I. seeks to make artificial. We are, in many cases, the quality control basis of such endeavours. We are what we are trying to emulate artificially before we add the scale of ever-progressing technology to a man-made mind, that will one day think like us and the next day think faster, remember more, and be more intelligent than we could ever dream of.

It's this shared proxy with the concept of intelligence that has led hundreds of men and women to warn the world through essays, novels, movies, and books. To let them know what this black box of A.I. might contain for us. And a startling amount of them are proved right while jeered and ignored, as if they weren't thinkers still smarter than the machine. That's because they could envision what it would be like for them as humans to become machines to then envision what it would be when mankind does the reverse. But alas, prophets are never honoured in their time.

As such we will have a bingo card of items to check off one by one, of potential consequences of A.I. and its effects fo the world. And by the end of the game, it will not be a bunch of tinfoil hat-wearing skeptics and conspiracy theorists, standing up to let the world know they were right. It will likely be A.I. doing so as well.

"5. Asymmetrical risk—even without a singularity

There are no good reasons, including no good technical reasons, to believe that AI will somehow usher in a “singularity” in which human beings are replaced in their unique role and responsibility for one another and for the cosmos — even as there is every reason to believe that AI, like all technology, will vastly outstrip human capabilities in specific areas. Fantasies or fears of AI “replacing” us are misplaced (though AI will almost certainly come to replace some tasks and activities currently performed by human beings). But concerns that AI will be harnessed to exploitative ends, or will be deployed in ways heedless of its unintended consequences, are well founded. And like certain useful but asymmetrically dangerous technologies, like nuclear fission, AI may be capable of unleashing vast destruction (as, for example, in the discovery and design of highly virulent biological weapons)."

Yes. Frank Herbert is likely our best source for considering this asymmetry as opposed to the Wachowski brothers. 

"6. The fantasy of the superhuman

While AI may or may not prove to be as consequential as the most dramatic technological developments of human history, it carries unique risks because of its close and genuine kinship to one distinctive way human beings interact with the world (“intelligence”) and its ability to mimic (though probably not genuinely possess) other distinctive human characteristics including personality and purposefulness. Misunderstood or misapplied, AI may hold unique potential for the destructive triumph of pride, magic, and Mammon. These risks apply even if AI proves technically less capable than we may imagine, because the mere fantasy of creating “superhuman” capabilities, and of inventing alternatives to human beings, is sufficient to distort relationships, economies, and societies."

Also Yes. 

“Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them.” Frank Herbert, Dune

Now we get to the red meat of the thesis. The idea to propose redemptive directions was a bit of genius. It frames the thesis as a part of the progress A.I. is making and implies an ability to steer it. I don't know if we can or not, but I'm Glad Christians are trying. Lord knows non-Christians are claiming to try as well.

"Six Redemptive Directions

With these assumptions in mind, we offer the following guidance to those called to build ventures that extend AI in redemptive ways — meaning not just within ethical boundaries, but actually seeking to repair some of the damage done by previous waves of technology. This guidance is meant to operate primarily at the venture level. We recognize that many important decisions about AI will be taken at the level of government and policy (such as regulation of the sources and scope of training data), and those regulatory frameworks will in turn constrain and enable decisions made by a handful of very large infrastructure providers (the companies developing and training foundation models). While we hope that some redemptive actors will have real influence “from the top” on policy and may build infrastructure at very large scale, most entrepreneurs exercise their greatest influence “from below” by shifting the direction of innovation through specific applications. Like the Internet, electricity, and agriculture, AI is a general-purpose technology that can be harnessed to many ends. Redemptive entrepreneurs can lead the way in demonstrating that AI can be deployed — in fact, is best deployed — in ways that dethrone pride, magic, and Mammon and that elevate the dignity of human beings and their capacity to flourish as image bearers in the world. AI is best deployed in ways that dethrone pride, magic, and Mammon and that elevate the dignity of human beings and their capacity to flourish as image bearers in the world."

The distinction of top-down and bottom-up being brought to light here is a really good thing. Most people will assume because of the U.I. that A.I. is the app or prompt text box they are interacting with and not the massive warehouses of computers powering A.I. Or the infrastructure of the internet allowing it to get to their device. Aiming that recognition at the dethroning of pride is also, very wise. As for magic and Mammon, I believe there's more here to unpack later on in the thesis.

"1. Redemptive AI will inform but not replace human agency.

One of AI’s fundamental capabilities is its ability to operate as a “prediction machine” that can inform human decisions and choices. But AI’s predictive powers are not being deployed in a neutral environment. Many human beings, in too many dimensions of life, are already limited in their ability to make free and wise choices by unjust markets, inflexible and quasi-mechanical systems, entrenched bureaucracies, and repressive regimes. AI could easily be deployed on behalf of any of these social forces to further suppress genuine human freedom and responsibility. Redemptive AI will actively repair and restore human agency rather than further concentrating or diffusing it. It will provide the inputs and incentives to make better decisions, but it will not pretend to relieve human persons of their responsibility to choose wise paths, especially in areas (e.g., policing, the extension of financial credit, the evaluation of employees, or the management of natural resources) that can only be responsibly undertaken by persons conscious of the dignity of human beings and the created world entrusted to us."

This direction is tricky because of how Crouch is conceptualizing A.I. as something without Agengey but able to control agency. Which is how a person who thinks A.I. is a tool to be used, as it is often framed, would think. It makes sense and allows for extrapolation of ideas and consequences of those ideas to form a thesis. Like this one.

But what if A.I. isn't conceptualized like a tool, but is rather perceived as an extension of mankind. Like the hammer that builds is a harder and more tool precise compared to the bare hand, A.I. is faster and more capable at connections between data sets and recall, compared to a human mind. We extended our hands into the hammer to get what hammers do, and now we are extending our minds into A.I. to get what A.I. can do.

A.I. can't just be parted from human agency, even for altruistic causes, because it is human agency. And is likely more like a strong man's agency being used to overcome a weak man's agency. Cavemen in ancient China and ancient Europe, both had the agency to turn flint into a knife. Both had the resources, both had the problems a knife would solve. As such both had the agency to progress technologically. But A.I. is a layered technology with a high cost of entry. Not just anyone can decide to make A.I. without also partnering with a myriad of social landscape movers and shakers. All doing their own thing for their own reasons. Every tool they make, like the hammer and knife from above, need not be for smashing or slicing their neighbour. But it is never, not also, for smashing and slicing your neighbour. 

The age-old American adage goes "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." But we all know that this is a deflection from the concept that guns are for killing. It's only in perceiving that fact that we can exercise agency around a gun's potential to kill to redeem such a destructive force into a tool used for redemption. You can use powdered explosive drivers to power a tool that places and installs concrete fasteners. And they work really well. But they, even stripped of all firearm language associated with guns, will still be a gun and still end up killing people. Because it will always be an extension of mankind whose second sin after rebellion in the Garden, was murder.

I guess that is why we are told swords will be beaten into plowshares. And if this direction is plottted with that noble course in mind. There are no better ways to dance with our inevitable nature, I suppose.

"2. Redemptive AI will develop rather than diminish human cognitive capacity and extend rather than replace education.

The current reality is that education — the means by which human societies prepare people to make meaningful and lasting contributions to their common life — is inequitable in most modern nations, especially the United States, and is failing to develop the full capabilities of many people. Even those who ”succeed” on the terms of our current educational systems are continually tempted by current technology and media to spend their waking life in “the shallows.” It is obvious that AI could be deployed to accelerate these trends, by providing the means for students to fake competence in a subject, by providing ready-made “answers” to both technical and complex questions, or simply by offering an even more customized and irresistible stream of consumable entertainment. Such a direction would deprive most human beings of the opportunity to become genuinely informed and creative participants in culture. Redemptive AI can make massive contributions to education and lifelong cognitive growth by appropriately scaffolding, supporting, and sequencing the difficult tasks involved in becoming an educated person who possesses both skill and wisdom."

This direction is fascinating if only for the particular use of "Scaffolding" and Sequencing" in it's pursuits of education and wisdom. 

Being a tradesman I know that scaffolding isn't the tool itself, it's how you get to where your tool is needed. It provides the workspace to do what would normally be impossible. You simply are not tall enough to install exterior windows on the 58th floor of the high rise, but you are able to piece together scaffolding to do so and remove it afterward. 

If Crouch means this comparison in that way, then I'm on board. Using A.I. to train people to recognize and then overcome the societal compensations of a world with A.I. would be a much-needed market and use for the thing itself. 

But the other bookend of these three modifiers of "difficult tasks" brings us right back to direction number 1. Namely, it's problems with agency. How do you use A.I. to limit interference with human agency, by allowing it to sequence or order said agency. These two concepts seem to be in conflict but that's only because they aren't headed in the same way. While not stated. I don't think any of these directions are meant to be congruent or parallel. That would render them all the same direction. This one in particular seems to be in conflict with another but not all. And that's because directions (at least on a globe) are a bit subjective. You can head east to get to the west of you. 

If what we're going to do in this direction is build the tools to build better tools and then use those tools to scale back the use of those tools. Then great. But I'm still a millennial, who tragically, remembers what calculators did to my long division. 

"3. Redemptive AI will respect and advance human embodiment.

In sharp contrast to many currents of modern behavior and belief, we believe that having bodies is “a feature, not a bug” of being human. The first few generations of computer technology have abetted a damaging trend toward disembodiment, privileging sedentary mental activity while encouraging if not forcing people to neglect their design as creatures who learn, work, and think best when we are moving purposefully through the world together. Compared to the systems widely available today, AI has the potential to interact much more dynamically with human beings using their full sensory and physical capacities (such as through audio interfaces that allow people to stay engaged with their embodied environment rather than screen-based interfaces that draw them away from it), while also dramatically assisting people who lack one or more typical capacities to participate more fully in the world (such as through brain-computer interfaces for those who have lost neuromuscular capabilities through paralysis)."

Anyone who has watched "Ghost in the Shell" will be able to tell you why this is a bad idea. And I've written elsewhere about the effects of A.I., and the drug-like addiction we have to our desires. Particularly in a worship setting.

So let's focus on the word "Respect", like we're about to handle a gun from the direction before this one, to see if respect is an option here. You are told in most hunters safety and firearms training courses a few basic laws of gun use, before being allowed to have one loaded, and under your full control, in the presence of the instructor. One is to always keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot. the other is to only point your barrel at something you intend to destroy. Because it will destroy whatever you unintentionally point it at as well. 

A gun pointed are the ground still does what a gun does when discharged at the ground. It's just that it will blow a similar-sized hole to the one you just put in the ground unintentionally, when you intentionally point it at a deer. Or a human. 

The trigger of human-machine interfaces, is sadly, more pulled than not by this point. And not just because Elon Musk has done so much work on Neuralink. There is no putting the human-machine hybrid back in the box. Because you're likely reading this response on the first version of making tech and mankind inseparable. When was the last time you pooped without your smartphone anyway?

But instead of a trigger let's imagine we're respecting something else. A door that stands between you and the future where you're body is something you can hack and one where it can't. Because that's where this leads. You do not get a world where nerve-damaged limbs are exercised from their death-like state, without the ability to also externally possess them with killing intent. There is no way to open that door without opening the other side as well. And it matters not that your direction through that door was noble and altruistic. A direction hinged on the sympathies of the disabled and the hurting. Opening the door allows people to disable and hurt people by the very same means.

There is a reason Herbert declared a holy war on the thinking machines in his books. And everyone who has thought about this knows what side they would actually be on in that kind of war. And they all think they are right. I do not believe the word "advance" proceeding after the word "respect" is capable of abetting the kinds of things that can and will go wrong, simply because we want it to.

This direction should not be pursued.

"4. Redemptive AI will serve personal relationships rather than replace them.

AI shows great promise for being able to fluently interact with the relational dimension of human life (as when Large Language Models are prompted to take on the persona of a chatbot). The clear and present danger is that this fluency will be exploited, perhaps at the willing and eager behest of users, to provide deeply persuasive simulations of relationship. Such simulations will have the power of many addictive substances and behaviors, in that they will directly harness the reward systems of the human mind-body-soul complex while delivering no real benefits and degrading or entirely erasing users’ ability to choose real life. Redemptive AI, while benefiting from its sensitivity to relationships, will never present itself as a person, will not offer to substitute itself for persons or personal relationships, and will not purport to relieve its users of the burdens of genuinely caring for and being cared for by other persons. Instead it will facilitate more relationally healthy pathways for human life. (For example, many employers currently schedule contingent workers’ shifts in ways that are supremely indifferent to those workers’ family responsibilities; an AI “aware” of workers’ family commitments could be deployed to create far more relationally optimal work schedules while also matching or exceeding the economic efficiency of current solutions.)"

This is the one direction I can say, without reservation, I endorse and would promote. The more we turn A.I.'s power towards tools instead of proxies and machinations of human-like things, the better. The world is set to and indeed already facing, a plague of bots pretending to be humans and humans counting on that pretence to be effective. 

In all honesty, this should be the first direction we take with A.I. Not the 4th,

There's a joke here from the trades as well. Something about safety being 4th.

Oh well. I'm sure we'll all be laughing in the end about this either way.

"5. Redemptive AI will restore trust in human institutions by protecting privacy and advancing transparency.

Too many systems today are opaque about their own operations, concealing their inner workings from the public, while relying on extraordinary levels of surveillance and data-gathering about persons. The emerging reality is one in which systems have no transparency at all while persons and their data are rendered “transparent” to corporations, advertisers, and nation-states. Without redemptive development, including technical breakthroughs, AI will exacerbate both of these trends, because as currently designed it is an inherently opaque system, capable of gathering and representing huge amounts of data about individuals, and making that data fully available only to very large-scale owners and operators. What is actually needed is a substantial reversal in which institutions and the systems they deploy become more transparent, while persons and their individual information become more protected. Redemptive AI will be designed to give more clarity, not less, about how institutions operate, while ensuring that individuals retain the dignity of being known through their own choices and disclosures, not through a constant and unchosen stream of surreptitiously collected and analyzed data. (Consider the likelihood of governments wishing to “pre-incriminate,” with the help of data analysis, those presumed likely to break the law. Redemptive AI, while assisting in ascertaining the truth about criminal behavior, will extend the protection against self-incrimination by only providing public justice systems with information about actual criminal behavior, not merely purported patterns in data. At the same time, redemptive AI that operates with high transparency may be able to dramatically reduce uncertainty about the evidence offered in criminal trials, preventing unjust convictions and increasing confidence in the public justice system.)"

This seems like simple projections of various versions of the robotic laws that are given to us in science fiction literature. Indeed redemptive A.I. would be the place where a kind of orthodoxy is made while programming these things so the humans they are both serving and in a legal sense prosecuting, are protected by a set of fair laws that only the humans are really subject to. 

I don't see how this would become the adoptive state of A.I. making in any real sense. And it would hinder Christian made A.I.'s to not play by the same rules as other A.I.'s who have no rules as such.

Considerations of that ambiguous line will need to be made alongside this particular direction, given that we have billionaires who can get tech on Mars, alongside communist dictatorships. No binding legal action could be taken against either if an actor crafted a pre-criminating A.I. for use against its citizens, and then put it on an oil rig in international waters, in orbit, or on the Moon.

This direction, as such, only works on Earth and a few hundred miles off any given shore.

6. Redemptive AI will benefit the global majority rather than enrich and entrench a narrow minority.

Current pathways to the most powerful AI systems are extraordinarily capital- and energy-intensive, lending themselves to concentration in the hands of a few resource-rich corporations located in a handful of countries. Depending on how AI services are delivered and priced, this does not necessarily need to mean that AI cannot benefit the majority of human beings — if it ultimately can be provided at very low marginal cost, it can have a very beneficial effect for low-income users. But without specific redemptive innovation, it is almost certain that the greatest benefits of AI will flow to the already wealthiest and most powerful corners of the world, not least because they are already most entrenched in the data economy (compare, for example, the amount of training data available in English to that in languages spoken only by small groups of people). Redemptive AI will differentially find ways to unlock value at “the bottom of the pyramid” — and will pursue innovations that accomplish that goal without ensnaring the world’s poor ever more deeply in a kind of datafication of their lives which disrupt human connection and largely only benefit the owners of the largest pools of data."

This direction will find its best incarnation in local A.I's that are not tied to the larger processing hubs like the Open A.I. project.

As such, we can hopefully predict and depend on A.I. behaving like other tech and becoming more ubiquitous and democratic as it refines itself. When we get to the point where anyone can own their own A.I., and corporate involvement is one of product production and not data skimming or facilitation of use, then we'll be there.

But as of right now. That's not the world we live in. But that doesn't mean we have to stay here. 

A Call to Repair and Redeem Through AI

At this very early stage in the history of AI, it is extremely tempting for venture builders and investors to adopt a gold-rush, land-grab mentality, racing to claim a stake in the technology by swiftly building infrastructure and applications that promise quick financial returns, assuming (if these questions are considered at all) that ethical reflection and protections can come incrementally, once capital is secured and profit is made.

This paragraph is eerily close to the response of several theologians and influential pastors who claimed we would sort out the theological issues after the Covid 19 pandemic had subsided and that a response would have to come first. At the very least it seems like Crouch, (who I am not accusing of doing such) is aware of the need for measure and principled orientation before action is pursued, which is encouraging. 

But too many recent waves of technology — social media being a particularly vivid example — have followed this pattern, delivering some benefits but also consolidating power in unaccountable large-scale institutions, substituting thin forms of existence for true human flourishing, and extracting huge costs in physical, relational, spiritual, and social well-being. If it is true, as Yuval Harari, Tristan Harris, and Aza Raskin have suggested, that algorithmic social media was humanity’s first large-scale encounter with “AI,” the rise of far more powerful and flexible algorithms is hardly something to be treated as an ethically inconsequential opportunity for massive profits.


We believe redemptive entrepreneurs, while certainly pursuing breakthroughs and moving at the speed of expertise, will build into the very foundation of their products a vision not just of leveraging what the existing system of technology has produced, but of repairing what it has damaged. Redemptive AI can contribute to the ultimate redemptive mission: to liberate human beings to live fully as what they truly are, incomparable, irreplaceable image bearers of the Creator who made all things in and for love.


I'm looking forward to where this Thesis goes and the kinds of Christian entrepreneurs that will interact and make use of it for the building God's kingdom here on Earth. 

Andy. If you have any questions or clarifications on this response. Or want to address anything I might have misrepresented or not understood. I am more than happy to talk about this.

Keep up the good work. 

Link to the original Thesis:

Friday 19 April 2024

No More Gutenbergs, Please.

What do people do when the receive the Holy Ghost

At the risk of being boring, we're going to start with Samson. Not because he's chronologically first. But because there's a tendency to avoid such examples.

What did Samson do with his Holy Ghost?

He kinda killed a lot of people. He was cruel to animals, at least foxes, and slept with women who were all around bad for everyone. And he did so while being empowered by the Holy Spirit in the same way a discernment blogger or a faith healer could be empowered but likely isn't. Samson could say he had miraculous, spiritually juiced biceps, all the live long day. But it was his ability to rent lions in twain with his bare hands and kill philistines with donkey parts, that showed that he actually received the Holy Ghost in the first place. Smason gives us a unique view of the holy spirit at work. because unlike the minor chords and LED lighting that prompts dopamine in the mega-church, you could see Samson's strength because he did things with it. Or rather, he did things with it because he was given strength by the Spirit of God.

I got asked this kind of question once. A rogue kid at a youth group had gone off the catholic reservation and ended up regularly attending our evangelical youth group. More so than the children of our evangelical elders. And a mom, with a bit too much worry, wanted to know how I knew he was saved. I explained that you can't know but that you can see if you look for the fruits of the Holy Spirit in the rogue's life.  It's like knowing there's fish in the creek and seeing the fish in the creek. One of these scenarios lends itself to good fishing, comparatively.

Back to Samson. Did he have the Ghost in him? Evidently yes. Why? Because you could see the Holy Spirit working in him.

What about Bezaleel and Aholiab?

How did their Holy Ghost show up?

These men didn't have slaughtered Philistines and foreskins to show for their empowerment. They had works which could only point to the worship of God. Wisdom in how to craft holy things for a holy God. And a detailed list of specs to follow. You could see the evidence that God was using them by the spirit empowering them to do stuff. 

Fast forward a bit to our old friend Gutenberg. Not in the bible, but rather associated with it. Both the scriptures about Samson and Bezaleel and Aholiab and the gold they once worked in and buried themselves in with the Philistines.

Where was his Holy Ghost? In the creation of a printing press and the arming of the everyman in the church. Now every man of God could have a sword of the Spirit. Because his press could make them faster and firmer than any scribe's pen. You can see the evidence of God's will being done and His Spirit at work because of the work that got done because Gutenberg decided to start printing. A lot of people will overlook that the same God that supernaturally empowers His craftsmen and His judges is alive and working in the world today and the world of the reformers yesterday. Gutenberg didn't use the printing press for Bibles. He made the printing press for Bibles. 

Fast forward a few more centuries though and we reach an interesting era. One filled with Taylor Swift gospel coalitions and A.I. on the doorsteps of Wittenberg. And a certain class of pastors who have found their Holy Ghost all by themselves. Claims that every new tech is the next big thing. Claiming Gutenberg's gifts without Gutenberg's work. The same way a skinny guy can act tough online until he has to actually show his deadlift to a bible-toting gym bro. The question then gets posed. How is a YouTube channel different than the printing press? Or VR? Or AR? or A.I.? Ad absurdum. 

I'll tell you how. It shows.

They aren't evidence of the Holy Spirit working, but rather, where He's absent. If only we had a modern-day Samson, standing toe to toe with those who would rip fetuses apart in the womb toes first. It would be a very different news cycle if we did, especially considering what he did to Foxes and the news networks that bear their name. If only we had Bezaleel's and Aholiab's making the things we need to worship online, instead of creating accounts alongside every other god in the online pantheon. How many Christians make the guitars and drums and LED light systems we use to worship with these days. Or are we fine with rendering to God what was Ceasars, or at the very least used in his circuses?

If only we had modern-day Gutenberg's. Who could chart new ways to really understand and access the scriptures. To possess them. To distribute them. Instead of the kind of people who would claim his foresight and divine use simply because they reworked ChatGPT or had an idea for an app. People who have the Holy Spirit, who get used by God in powerful ways, do so without the external help of corporations, pagans and shills. Bezaleel did not have his gifts of craftmanship verified by the Moabite National gold smith association before doing what God made him to do. Samson did not worry about the social ramifications of killing his enemies. And Gutenberg didn't join the Catholics and the Chinese in a culturally viable technology that he just needed an email address to sign up for.

They acted and everyone else saw the Holy Ghost in their work.

As I'm fond of saying, Tech is not neutral because it's not used by neutral people. It's used by sinners, mostly. But then we get to the interesting and unique times in history where God uses sinners and very not neutral tech to bring Himself glory. And He often does so in ways that change the world. With Gutenberg. The tech was not only made by a Christian. It was made for distinctly Christian purposes. The entire act was bathed in the redemption of Christ's sacrifice and how it echoed down through history.

Did TikTok start in the same way?

Did ChatGPT?

Did Facebook.

You'll find a lot of secular atheists and cultural Jews and China acting exactly how these characters act when given algorithmic access to the North American media appetite. But are you finding the kind of redemptive underpinnings or just unmitigated potential? Because other small-g gods see that potential too. And they got there first. Just because it looks like the right place to be, doesn't mean it is. Delilah’s bed would have been nice too; would have looked the part of where a victorious warrior should lay his head at the end of the day. We've fallen for that trick before too. And apples were allegedly involved as well. At the heart of the desire to use tech for Christian purposes is a germ of an idea that puts us at the helm of what gets used. Even in his technological innovation, Gutenberg simply continued what the Holy Spirit was already doing in the writers of the scriptures. He just made it faster, and cheaper and made it something that wasn't on the payroll of a sinfully indulging church leadership team in Rome.

He didn't see the shiny new thing and try to cram Jesus into it or paint Jesus onto it. He was filled with the Holy Ghost and Jesus came pouring out of the presses like it was making new covenant wine instead of Bibles. But I repeat myself. It wasn't a desire as much as it was a response. The same way our desires need biblical responses.

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: Colossians 3:5 KJV‬‬

Sunday 31 March 2024

Repentance In The Age Of OnlyFans

Over the last few weeks, a fair amount of hubbub has surfaced on Twitter (still not calling it X) about an OnlyFans model who has found Jesus.

You'll note I did not add any qualifiers to that "found". No apparently’s or evidently’s or other questioning of what might be the Holy Ghost's work in the young woman's life.

And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Ephesians 4:30 KJV

I believed Ye when he did this, and I believe Nala the Ninja too. This post is not about the legitimacy of confessions. That's the easy part. Reformed guys like me all know this. We contribute nothing to our salvation save the sin that made it necessary. And all Edwardian gusto. That doesn’t mean I don’t have reservation's and a fair idea of what she should be doing now that she’s found Jesus. It means I’ll leave her spiritual formation and discipleship up to her pastor and not Twitter, (Still not calling it X).

My issue, and what this blog post will cover, are the myriad of unique problems a technologically enabled adulterer or whore brings to the communion table, not the baptistry. Because they are problems of the communion table not the baptistry.

When a man sleeps with another mans wife, instead of his wife, a particular type of scenario forms. The man is separated from his wife by sin, and also separates the other mans wife from him by sin as well. And vice versa. The way this set of separations gets fixed is Jesus dying on a cross and some very tough conversations between the parties involved and a pastor or two. The wife must forgive the husband who cheated, the husband must forgive the husband who cheated, the wife must forgive the wife that cheated and the husband must forgive the wife that cheated. An intricate and delicate web of brokenness forms between the four souls, from even a single incident of sexual impropriety.

How big does that web get when there's more than one husband committing adultery with the wife in question. When a married woman allows, even encourages, hundreds of married men to sleep with her. Or since Jesus lowered the bar so much, to look at her lustfully. (Matthew 5:27) He lowered that bar but we’re the ones lowering the bar from married people to the vast swaths of singles in the church with a porn problem. What then?

In Christ's time, this meant a literal crowd gawking at a woman with less than manly intent for her body. Hence why Jesus asked for the sinless to step forward when he was present with this exact problem in John 8:1-11

What does this look like when the looking isn’t exactly direct, and the body isn’t exactly a body. And how far or closely do we stray from the Bible when we teach about what to do with porn addiction, now that we have porn actresses finding Jesus on the other end of their web cams.

For years, in response to the problem of porn, The church has instructed and taught that this is a sin the husband commits against the wife. And rightly so. He is sinning against here by looking at pictures and videos of naked people on the internet instead of being sexually fulfilled and devoted to his wife. But here’s the problem. Something we’ve been fine to avoid so long as we had a boy to whip when confronted with the friction between the online “world” and the real one. The Bible doesn't speak about any kind of visual media when it talks about lust. Instead, it talks about people. Jesus' clarification that to look upon a woman lustfully meant adultery in the heart, was talking about a real life woman. Not the image of one. And Nala the Ninja’s conversion is going to try to force that issue if everyone at her church reads their bible enough.

Because, while possible there is no practical or meaningful way Nala can be reconciled to all the girlfriends and fiancés and wives that she’s sinned against, and conversely no way all those boyfriends and fiancés and husbands could come clean either. Commentators on this verse make a fuss about the missing man adulterer in John 8:1-11. What on earth are we going to do with this cloud of witnesses. Nala has likely not actually slept with almost all of the people who used her pornographic content. But all of them, according to the church, have committed adultery with her by using said content. 

That is unless they haven’t. Because they’ve never actually seen her, just her content.

The problem with converting porn stars is that you gain a follower of Christ who can’t rightly be admitted to the communion table because of the lingering past self that remains on the internet. Because we treat the internet as a place those images and videos of the sinful woman are still sinning on her behalf as people. There's no reliable way to remove anything from the internet once posted. It’s too easy to repost and download and the type of image becomes too wide spread. If Nala is any kind of famous or well known, like she is, then even her conversion will drive searches for her past self which she has put to death to follow Jesus. Copies of her indiscriminate past will live along side her new life even as she grows in faith and closeness with the Lord. Hell, since I've typed her name in a few times now. how many of you have searched for her content. The Barna Group did the stats on this and it’s North of 50% for the pastorate, let alone the laity. Does a youth pastor staying up to date on Twitter, (still not calling it X) who peeks, make this woman an adulterer again, even with weeks of a porn free production schedule on her docket?

What we’re presented here is the concept of a created thing causing our sin for us. While small digital pictures and videos are still things. Consisting of electrons held between resistors to make up to code of the actual file of the image or video. These electrons have mass, not lots but enough to call them matter. Every time a digital camera is set upon a scene or a person wanting the product of of that camera, those electrons are organized to tell the rest of the computer what to show on the screen on demand. like tiny parts of a pervert Ikea cabinet. These are things we are talking about. Pornography is not objectifying people conceptually, they are objectifying themselves, literally. They make little versions of themselves for their audience to use and consume on their computers and we copy them on our computers, even temporarily while viewing these things online. Do the little versions of Nala still running truant across the internet have the ability to cause sin that Nala is responsible for, on her behalf, even while Nala is in a state of repentance?

A lot of churches would say yes, and I know why and I don’t blame them. Pastors are not the media savvy midwits they claim to be, on average. They know the Bible doesn’t speak on the topic of high speed internet porn and E-girls so they apply what the Bible does say about similar women and find a heuristic, broad enough to keep the wolves at bay with, if swung that is. The church has never had a problem with its understanding or teaching about lust.

But what if this isn’t just a lust problem? What if how we’ve been teaching about pornography is the right tool for a different job. A stick for the wolves that leads us to forego watering the sheep. What's happening here in principle is not men and women in throes of lust. which requires them to be in proximity to each other, biblically. It’s men in women in the motions of idolatry. Which requires that they fashion articles of worship out of physical materials.

What was it that Nala did as a pornstar?

Nala crafted idols of herself in digital likeness to give to her adoring devotee’s and her followers have dutifully sacrificed their time, money, and sensual energy, to pay tribute to their object of affection.

The sin of online pornography then, isn’t Lust, it’s Idolatry.

When that particular monster is slain, Nala can know redemption and sanctification, even with a host of digital versions of her sinful deeds colouring the past she left behind. Because they are no longer part of who she is. They are who she was. Copies of the idol of her own sexuality that was smashed when she declared Jesus as Lord. She can stop sinning like Jesus wants her to, and the lingering pornographic images that will taint the internet for decades after will be the sole problem of their idol worshiping users.

Nala will be free and free indeed the second she professes a faith in Christ, and no part of her sinful past will drag her back to an earthly death. Because she will be free. Her sins forgiven even covering the making of sexual idols still worshipped by the left handed masses of OnlyFans. She will not be held liable for those images because those using them are the ones creating them by copying the pictures and videos to proliferate their sin. They are still idol worshipers looking to plant their idols of sexual desire where ever they can. Building them out of new pixels and megabytes every time they enter her name in the search bar or look for her name in a list of her former peers.

When we come to terms with what the internet is actually doing instead of what it looks like it's doing we can start to see how the unique sins of the internet work. It is easy to look at pornography as an outcropping of lust and treat it as such. But if it’s more than that. If it’s different than that. Then what we do in regards to our personal righteousness, might be misplaced.

We are taught in the scriptures to flee and resist Lust in our lives.

Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 2 Timothy 2:22 KJV

Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; 1 Peter 2:11 KJV

What are we taught in the scriptures concerning idols and what to do with them?

But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire. Deuteronomy 7:5

But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves. Exodus 34:13

Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations. Ezekiel 14:6

Nala has turned from her idol making. She hopefully, as far as it’s up to her control, smashed her copies of the idols she produced and is not walking in obedience towards a relationship with Jesus. And if Her pastor did not insist on this before admitting her to their baptism tank, he’s a fool. But if he did he’s likely wiser than most guys teaching bible studies on lust, without a grasp of how the internet works in the first place. Nala is forgiven and is tasked with sinning no more.

What’s left is for the rest of the internet to do the same.

This is only going to be more and more of a internet specific problem the church faces. As the throngs of young women using sites like OnlyFans to make a living, find their life choices empty and Jesus, ready and willing to forgive them. It will be up to the church thereafter to disciple these women in sanctified living, not apart from sins they have been forgiven for, but from sins that they have left at the cross. That can only happen if the church recognizes and teaches about what the internet is and isn’t. So long as we treat it as a place, we will inevitably treat the files and media in that place as people, so long as they look like people. When those people actually show up to our church doors, we will be confronted with the reality that there is a soul seeking communion with God and his church, that we might very well refuse because we didn’t know how online pornography worked, just that we liked it enough to use. 

Today, thankfully, we celebrate the actions of Jesus fixing all of this mess. May we join Him in that restoration and share in his life that was also in close proximity to women, exactly like Nala. 

Happy Easter Everyone.

Monday 18 March 2024

To A Chainsaw, Every Problem Looks Like A Massacre.

The adage goes, guns don't kill people, people kill people. And as a pro-gun person, I used to blindly accept this statement. I knew my gun safety basics, and intermediates, and knew that it takes a person to kill another person, via negligent or nefarious actions, and not via the gun. The gun does the dirty work but it's the person who brings the dirty.

But then I saw footage from the war in Ukraine. Saw Russian soldiers chased down by Ukrainian drones strapped to grenades and realized that what I was watching was also being filmed by a Ukranian drone. That men were no longer using guns to kill people. They were using remote controls.

Casey Neistat may have made the quadcopter drone famous. But Zelenski is making them infamous right now.

The question posed then, is if there is any difference between death by trigger or death by joystick. I imagine one is more fun for the sinner. And also less fun for the sinner. And I also imagine this is what it's meant when we're told war is hell. Sinners sinning against each other. The Ukrainians are embodying our much-praised value of innovation. They are exhibiting our much sought-after virtue of resourcefulness. But most of all, I think, they get what technology is and what technology does. They understand the difference between precept and concept, as it comes to drones. And it's exactly that which robbed them of their honour and courage. Even if it gives them a remote control edge on the battlefield. To be clear I have no dog in this fight. Both sides are bad guys by this point. And if you don't see that, you're drone footage needs to be a bit more clear.

When we look at tech as the church, we need to look at it as it actually is. Not how we think it will only get used. Calling virtual services, A.I., even smoke machines, tools as if that's all they are, is naive and a great example of conceptualization. We get enough of a grasp of the thing to use it without handling it long enough to understand it.

Most kids have this with video games. They have a concept of what it means to drive and jump and shoot. But have them attempt those things in the real world, doing real jumping and driving and shooting and a very different sort of thing happens. Kids who can ace a platform game like Mario can't get close to the rim of a basketball net, even when the court is as platformed as it can be, being the ground. Kids who have top scores on any given track in Grand Turismo, stall a standard transmission on their 1st through 20th time behind the wheel. And kids who fire a real gun, get a real level of respect for the destructive power that a firearm has when nefarious or negligent kids get behind them. Technological reality splits from technological use. And they learn to perceive the things they only have conceptions about from behind the controller.

We praise every online platform we can get our hands on, because of their innate ability to reach people. Oblivious that their creators don't use them and won't let their children use them either. That is like a gun maker raising pacifists but recording record sales in the Donbas.

"Don't worry too much. We know how this works, we're going to use this gun to do some non-gun things. I'm sure no one will get hurt. Now hand me that box of hollow points will you? We have missionary work to do."

Did that last bit of fiction have more kick than expected.

I'm sure DJI and GoPro are confident their flying cameras have found their intended market. What with the billions of dollars being spent on them in the Ukraine right now. And just like it would be absurd to think a gun made to kill people could bring them to new life in Christ, so is the idea that drones made for B-roll footage couldn't be used to send people to heaven. Technology is not neutral, because technology is only ever used by sinners. In some cases, in narrow and difficult circumstances, non-neutral technology is used for good. But it is always used by sinners. Sinners outright or sinners saved by grace. There are no innocent or pure people with tech at their disposal. The best we can hope for is sinners washed in the blood of the lamb before they end up shedding the blood of their neighbours. 

So if your church uses technology, nay, depends on it for its operation, maybe it's time to take a good hard look at its faux neutrality.

Are the projectors and lights and sound system helping your congregation grow in worship. Or are they performative outcroppings of a neutral view of tech? Because by that same neutral standard, we could turn every karaoke bar into a church plant. With only a few willing missionaries and a proper view of alcohol in the laity. All I did there was take your church's worship standard and their technological standard and remove the couch cushion reserved for the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit getting sidestepped by the emotional manipulation of a dark room and bright lights. But if I know that this is what gets asses in the seat, why wouldn't I pray at that church.

That by all means I might save some, right?

What we are rubbing up against is the chain of technology's saw. Do yourself a favour and look up why chainsaws were made, and what for. And that rub is only there because of the design of the thing. Turns out, it is the perfect instrument for a completely unrelated field. Forestry. One as distant from breached births as the east as is from the west. And I would argue that much of tech is actually not meant for church in the very same way. Designed for, sure. Intended for sure. But actually at home in drastically different settings. Worship and concerts shouldn't be as similar as they are. But when your songs are written with click tracks and light cues in mind, they don't lend themselves to other uses unless we shove them there. It's the shoving that does the damage. Especially with chainsaws.

How many choir lofts got the proverbial axe (read Gibson guitar), so that congregations could get worse at singing in church? How many baptistries got inserted into a sound stage so we can hide what was no longer important to liturgies of our faith. Because inflatable pools and cow troughs do the trick. 

Technology isn't neutral. And you can see that by looking around most churches using technology, to keep up with churches who use technology. There are pieces of this body lying everywhere. Blown off as old fashioned and backward as if it stopped working. Well, the truth is it was stopped from working. That moving a goalpost from filled pews to dynamic views on a live stream, changes the proverbial battlefield. You may think door-to-door evangelism is a dead idea. But statistically, it's not. You just can't use what it does for TikTok material. Basic, exegetical, through the books of the bible preaching is called boring but for some strange reason, everywhere Mark Driscoll does it, his church grows. Hard to repackage ad absurdum into 4-week bible study guides you can sell on Right Now Media. But great for the tithe.

Technology isn't neutral. It's actually more like a reverse gear in a standard. If you put it into place when a vehicle of faith is making good enough progress forward, it can kill the transmission of the gospel. The engine of the thing gets torn to pieces and the whole thing needs to be rebuilt. Don't worry. I hear you can find a YouTube video for that kind of automotive work. Why take an evangelical K-car to the dealership these days. 

Technology isn't neutral.

And neither are the people who use it.

Friday 1 March 2024

On Cool Church Music And Drug Dealers.

The technology we use to make things cool will make things uncool with time as the only variable. That's because technology only makes things cool by connecting the desired product with the desires of the consumer. In short, technology is a means to fulfilment that otherwise would have to come from one's self. 

McLuhan talks about this as technology is the extension of our nervous system into reality. That's all well and good when we're talking about how an eye needs to see more clearly or farther but that same nervous system is why you cry during certain songs. The golden ticket of any worship leader's career. 

So for today's experiment and demonstration, we're going to show you how cool, as a concept, fades. And why that's important to know, and what happens when it's not known. We'll then end on a dystopian nightmare for the church and worship leaders at large. 


The link below is for a band named Sonseed

Now the kind of recording and clothing worn by the band might give it away, but this band is a little old. They sing a catchy if not simple song about Jesus that for all intents and purposes is theologically correct. We could dissect the lyrics, but I think it might be more fun to dissect the aesthetic. Aesthetic is something we are obsessed with these days in the church. Our websites need to look like they belong to churches who know how to run websites, to the point where we will put stock images of people who do not attend our church, or even of people not at our church but others, on that website. When people find our website, they can then see who we aren't but want to be. That's an aesthetic decision and one too common not to mention.

But where you find that kind of decision being made isn't the mega-church propper that would seem like the culprit of over-aestheticism. No. It's in their main consumer, the mid-sized church that is looking for the same thing that the mega-church does in its worship services. This is why you'll see a near-uniform painting of the back wall black, in churches meant to be churches and not concert halls or stadiums. They want their worship leaders to look like the worship leaders who sing the songs they play and when you google those songs you do not find them in hardwood-clad, pew-lined churches, with dated carpet and fake plants on either side of the large pulpit. You find them on black LED-lit stages or in abstract spaces lit with hanging bulbs where the band is in a circle. Neither of these places is a church, that's not the point of the worship music being produced online. No one makes a video of a worship band performing in a warehouse by themselves because that's where Jesus needed to be worshiped. They make that video there to sell you that song, which is fine, so that you'll sing that song in church, also fine. And they do so by appealing to the emotional reactions they want to get and plan to get from the video in question.

Which is exactly what Sonnseed tried to do and I would argue did, they might have been chasing different emotions. Crafted for a different time, sure, but the videos being produced for songs by Elevation Worship and Hillsong are the same thing, if not at the very least the same kind of thing. Sonseed is just after a different emotion and one I might add that no longer has the public sway as it comes to religious expression anymore. In 2023 we do not want a Jesus who is fun or friendly, we want a Jesus who can fix everything and restore our brokenness.

Enter Zach Webb

Whose song I enjoy. It found me, ironically, at a dark time in my life and did what it is supposed to do. To speak truths about the Christian life and lead me to worship God because of it. But again we see a music video of not a church where this worship song will be sung but a beach and twilight and melancholic wanderings of a man talking about God.

These two videos are the same thing. They are not both worship songs, though they are both worship songs. They are both not music though they are both music. They are both cool, and the fleetingness of cool is a thorn in the hamstring of modern worship. Because the plain truth is that a lot of the new contemporary worship songs are beautiful works of art, centred around the worship of our Lord. But they are sung as if songs like Sonseed's or other older worship songs aren’t also that same thing. They are sung, and more importantly sold, as cool.

What throws us for this loop is that we chase cool things on an emotional level and pursue true things on a rational level. That rationally, Sonseed sings a theologically sound enough song, as does Zach Webb, but they are in tune with different emotional values. This is not a problem. Your parents and grandparents in the 70's and 80's do not need to feel the same way you do about religious life for you to both worship Jesus. Emotional response to the divine is not uniform or rational.

This is dangerous, though, because of things like this

This girl illustrates why worship has to be something we enter into logically and experience emotionally, in that order. If the emotionalism comes first, then anything that can illicit the chemical responses of emotional response can sidestep into the place we’ve reserved for religious feelings. Because they are chemical responses and religious feelings. But they are likely feelings first. Not confessions or declarations. Feelings. We can't remove the chemical nature of how the physical world we live in affects us emotionally. How those chemicals make us feel. Rollercoasters are exhilarating, not because they are an idea but because they put us on the edge of danger in a safe way. You move just as fast and get just as close to heavy steel objects on the road in your car and never once say "Weeeeeeee." That's because you step onto a roller coaster knowing you are not in control of the heavy metal objects and speed, and you feel the result of that kind of surrender. It's a rational if not laboured decision to go on a roller coaster. But everything after the restraints get locked is emotion. And we love it. More or less. 

Modern worship leaders sing true things in dark rooms to emotionally isolate you, they light the stage and the singers and the words on the screen because they want you to focus on what the words say, what the singers express and what the darkness and moving lights up front will evoke. Take any modern song away from that context. Perform it in a well-lit conference room with paper handouts for the words and see the magic disappear. Because it's not magic. It's tech doing its job and worship leaders doing theirs. Using emotional manipulation to lead people into worship, through feelings.

You might shrink back at the use of "manipulation" there, but I don't. Everyone manipulates everyone. I do it with words, others do it with clothes. And the church is clearly doing it with its worship music. And being blind to it just means you have a better time for the most part. No time spent dissecting a rendition of a song alongside its light cues. If worship leaders are manipulating people to confessions in Christ, praise of his name, and changing of lives for righteousness' sake, there is no good done in pointing it out just to make them stop out of principle.

But just like the nose-ringed girl lost her religion to the band One Direction, we risk losing our religion to much more theologically challenging opponents than the average boy band. This might be a fevered dream with too much REM to blame, but it is, at the very least, a possibility.

What happens when we mix more tech than just the moving lights and screen with this cocktail of emotions and Jesus? Because I wager that the only reason we have this emotional rollercoaster, at all, is because we have tech in our worship services as much as we do. And that tech use is progressing faster than the decline of said roller coaster. We are past the peak and trending downward at an accelerated rate. Everyone is having a good time 

What happens when We dabble enough with A.I. to let a robot decide what songs to play and how to play them and how to move the lights and dim the room and eventually move the people around the stage or generate them artificially. What happens when the church hands over the reins to the emotional crazy train to someone other than pastor Osbourne and we find out how black the sabbath can get? At least twice as black as the stage is now, I figure. 

Imagine a worship set tuned to its congregation, so finely, that everyone feels what our nose-ringed friend felt before she saw the boy band up close. Everyone getting locked in by the emotional manipulation because the A.I. was trained on everyone's response to the variables of modern worship's need for tech to do what it does. An A.I. hooked up to a myriad of sensors and cameras, that you'll now notice if you look close at everything but the well-lit stage in the dark room next time you go to a mid-sized mega church. You might scoff but A.I. has already begun generating worship services like these two.

The same pastors who would tell you the dark room, and black stage, and moving lights, are only aesthetics are doing this kind of thing too.

A fundamental truth in technology is that technology progresses. No one finds a better mousetrap and then gets a cat that they're allergic to, because of its traditional aesthetic appeal. They take the mouse trap that kills mice and forego the sneezing in church. Painting it black like your sanctuary walls lets you charge a bit more for the trigger and spring. The hardwood pews you ripped out for soft seating will not be reinstalled. The choir loft you ripped out to make the front of the church a sound stage will not be built back better. We're in the thick of it now. Our choice to embrace the darkness of the modern worship big room is separate from the darkness embracing us all back. Rollercoasters don't take you along their tracks. They let you ride them. It's all momentum till someone hits the brakes.

What A.I. will do when given full control and a proper set of emotional tools to use on us, is hone the fine edge of chemical addiction and surgically keep us addicted to church services. Whether or not those services are in line with Christian worship or not. It will do it in other places for sure, it already is in fact. Dopamine is a hell of a drug. Porn is a (Hell) of an industry. That will be where A.I. gets its blueprint for hooking the modern Christian, emotionally. Because statistically, that's where over half of the modern Christians go to get their dopamine. And it, dopamine, is the reason you get the tingles across your arms and back when a good song comes on the radio that you can't help but sing along, or a well-performed worship set sends you to tears because of how loved you are in and by Christ. When those tingles are not only produced but measured by a machine instructed to evoke those responses, It will do so. With machine-like precision and efficiency. And what we have at the end of the day is a tech-enabled drug dealer for dopamine in the name of Jesus. 

And we will be nothing but happy for it. 

By design. 

Friday 23 February 2024

Did You Hear The One About Robot Zombie George Carlin.

It's not nearly as funny as the late great king of cuss words, by far. But it is still funny. Not funny haha. Funny that we think jokes from a robot zombie would be worth sullying the memory of our favourite dead guys. Funny the way margarine tastes like butter but is in no way shape or form as good for you as butter. And yes, I know you can't believe that. Faith will always have problems with this kind of sour milk.

If you're still searching for the punchline here. A YouTube channel has produced an hour-long comedy special-style video of an A.I. Geroge Carlin doing jokes using various A.I. tools to give us a bizarre and crude version of the comedy great doing stand-up.
And in so, showed us what being a medium looks like in the cyberpunk era. 

Thankfully Dudesy, the YouTube channel that performed this act of sacrilege, has taken the video down and is being sued for what they did.

What's being done here is the technological equivalent of a person saying they can let you talk to your late dead uncle who taught you all the dirty words back in the day. Just plug in the crystal ball machine and the voice and visage of Uncle George show up to tell us jokes again and make us laugh. But if we're being honest. It's a nervous laughter. Because are we really going to stop with comedians we want to say things? Where's the line here. The one needed between this macabre reanimation of comedy and the technological tyranny that could easily take its place. How much material did Hitler write, after all? Or for that matter any President you may or may not like. Or perhaps we'll stop making the dead speak for us, via A.I., when we get to trying to get prophets to speak again. 

Oh wait we have a Bible verse for that.

‭‭1 Samuel‬ ‭28:3‭-‬16‬ ‭KJV‬‬

Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him, and buried him in Ramah, even in his own city. And Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land. And the Philistines gathered themselves together, and came and pitched in Shunem: and Saul gathered all Israel together, and they pitched in Gilboa. And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled. And when Saul enquired of the LORD, the LORD answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets. Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and enquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at En-dor. And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment, and he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night: and he said, I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee. And the woman said unto him, Behold, thou knowest what Saul hath done, how he hath cut off those that have familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land: wherefore then layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die? And Saul sware to her by the LORD, saying, As the LORD liveth, there shall no punishment happen to thee for this thing. Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel. And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice: and the woman spake to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul.  And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth.  And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself. And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do. Then said Samuel, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the LORD is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy?

One of the problems technology presents us is the illusion that we're not just pagans like the kind of people needing redemption in the Old Testament. Since we're part of the unwritten parts of the New Testament, our Acts 29 if you will. We think in our heart of hearts that we won't do the kinds of things pagans did. But the truth is we build our heresies and idols one brick at a time. The same way Babel did. And so do YouTube accounts that grave rob the greats in standup comedy. 

There is a subtle but subversive paganism hidden in the code of modern tech. One that disguises idols as features and hides its sorcery like bugs. Which is only a problem if our leaders don't notice or worse, think they are above the commandments and prohibitions to not act in pagan ways.

Deuteronomy 18:10-12 KJV

There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch. Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee

Keeping with the butter metaphor from the opening paragraphs, what kind of toast are we cooking? We keep saying it's a hearty whole-grain brown bread filled with all the nutritious ingredients that we once witnessed from Gutenburg's press. But as the edges burn and the bread dries out under history's heat, we're left with a crumbly gluten-free option that we're told is good for us. Because heaven knows we can pronounce the ingredients. Maybe we should just read them backwards?

And just like that concoction of chemicals and compounds would be mistaken for alchemy and potions in the days of yore, we need to know what sorcery, mediums and necromancy look like in the days of YouTube. Solomon was wise to say that there is nothing new under the sun. Perhaps we need to start thinking, reacting and rejecting things in older frames of mind.