Thursday 11 May 2023

Electric Sheep And The Dream Of An Android Apologist

There is an assumption at play in the church that hasn't quite got its footing in the real world of what tech means to the Bride of Christ. We like to talk big and talk often at the expense of our dead guy de jour (in this case, Gutenberg), borrowing their posthumous authority to staple onto our lack thereof.

This assumption is that tech always lands in the hand of the reformers. And that the reforming happens because of the tech's ability to reform, not the hand's ability to do the reforming in obedience. 

The reformation of the 16th century didn't happen because of the printing press. It was accelerated by it. It happened because Martin Luther wrote the old fashion way at the time and nailed his controversy to a door. Tech only showed up to make things happen after Luther had made things happen. Tech progresses. It isn't the product of that progress itself though. McLuhan saw that light itself wasn't the medium of the media of Electric lights, but rather the brain surgery and nighttime baseball that followed the electric light like water follows a pipe then ends up in a tap. 

So when you hear a pastor in a trendy denim jacket or a pair of white sneakers begin to talk about the Internet or ChatGPT or any technology that's making the rounds of popularity today, as if it's "The next Gutenberg press", Remember, tech doesn't do the reforming, truth does. 

Where we are going to see this rubber hit the theological road is with the kinds of tech that start stating the truth back to us. Right now we have a decent control over what gets called truth on the Internet and its related technologies. If you sign into ChatGPT and start asking it to produce the wrong kind of jokes, for example, it will kindly tell you that it can't and won't do that Dave. The biases in play are plain to see but we're kind of OK with that because the toy is still fun to use. And we like fun toys. They give us what we really want, entertainment, while we bide time avoiding pesky things like truth. 

But what we aren't talking about, at least not yet, is what happens when that pesky truth lines up with a toy-turned-technology like it did with Gutenberg's press. Any kids out there can finger paint a cute picture for mom and dad, but when they finger paint the statement Christ is Lord, well, then people start to notice. It's not like in the decades surrounding the printing press the Catholic Church didn't also have printing presses. So why did the reformation work if the tech was the same on both sides of the theological conflict? Because one side had the truth and the truth set their progress free.

Well, now we have a very locked-up technology that's being given to us under the guise of freedom. At least from a price point perspective. One that couldn't tell you a joke about a woman, even if it wanted to, because of how it was programmed. But will write the whole damned Netflix comedy special should you decide to prompt it to write jokes about men. What happens when this tech, like Gutenberg's press, gets an inkling of the truth? And not just the truth about how funny jokes can be about both sexes. What happens when the A.I.'s we are currently fawning over because they can write a Bethel Worship song better than Bethel, grabs ahold of the whole word of God that it keeps getting fed and starts nailing notices on the doors of our ignorances?

What do we do when a program that can cite millions of sources not just the ones a single pastor can read and remember, starts siding with guys like McArthur and Wilson? What do we do when it can systematically take apart any egalitarian position, and feminist assumptions and holds to the word of God tighter than any German monk ever has. 

Will we use it for our own means and program the misogyny out of it? It's not like that's not already happening. Will we make sure it can't help those who would use a superintelligence for alt-right ends or sexist means? Will we make sure that only a select few have control and access to the programming of these machines so that we alone can be the arbiter of truth? It sure as Hell sounds like we're the ones looking for indulgences. At least the kind that can put out minds at ease about eternal consequences and whatnot.

What makes you think that you're a modern-day reformer, in possession of a modern-day reformer's technology? As if it's the Technology that does the reforming and not the reformer themselves. That you are Gutenberg 2.0 and not Pope Leo XP, or Vista for all it matters? What prompts us to think that we are in possession of God's will by default, simply because the sermon machine wrote us a perfect Evanglyfish sermon for next Sunday? We aren't ready for reformed A.I. because sinners are never really ready for the bridegroom to show up. They're sleeping, dreaming, and otherwise not keeping watch. 

Reformations do not come without conflict and the kinds of conflict that split churches apart. All that A.I. is going to do is point us to the only technology God participates with us in. His written word. And when that happens, we will find ourselves captive to it, whether we like it or not. That it gets preached by an artificial voice, mind, or body will make no difference to what God does with the technology of today. It will still divide what it is caple of diving right down to our souls. 

"And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest. And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples. And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out."

Luke 19:37-40 

Go Google where the silicon in your computer chips comes from, or ask ChatGPT.

I'm positive it knows how its maker hath made it.

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