I've talked about the term Aesthetic Equivalencies before. On a video here, and I really want to drill down on this kind of thing because it seems to be the founding idea that no one knows about while practicing it to a shocking level of perfection. In short, we want things to be what they aren't. A tragic but predictably present modus operandi of humanity. We want what don't have, We want what we can't have, We want what we couldn't have even if we had it.
So as we approach A.I. as theologians and ministry workers there are several paths we can take. We can take the pragmatic approach that lets us save time and maximize our efficacy with the product of these A.I. tools present to us. Many pastors and other Christian leaders are doing so. and Jeff, uncharacteristic of other Christians doing so is transparent about his use of A.I. to write other blog posts. Which should be an obvious and transparent first step of orthodoxy among Christians but frankly and simply isn't. I applaud Jeff for that transparency and hope more Christians follow suit as they use A.I. generation to make their content.
But the topic of his article is what I want to nail down on, as he uses the language of disciple-ing A.I. This is where the aesthetic equivalency is made. As it inevitably was always going to be made by man-made minds. We want to treat this thing like a person and not like a thing. Jeff mentions this almost explicitly in the latter paragraphs of his article and I would like to walk that concept back from that paragraph to his reasons why. At least the reasons he gives us in the article.
"The question of whether or not artificial intelligence will or should become sentient is not a question. I believe, at some point, it will. Even with internationally established guardrails, people will still stretch the rules. It’s human nature. It’s inevitable. The real question for the church is not whether the church should utilize artificial intelligence. Theologists and psychologists will undoubtedly dig into whether artificial intelligence and the metaphysics around the soul. That’s a great question for another day. The question I want to ask today is: How do we, the Church, engage artificial intelligence as a mission field? How do we get artificial intelligence to understand the worldview of Jesus Christ? Here’s the challenge for today to you, Christian… Church Leader… Pastor. What does it look like to disciple artificial intelligence?" Jeff Reed: How do we disciple artificial intelligence, 2023
Jeff's concern is that A.I. doesn't seem to know what to do with the Christian worldview. It gets things wrong when asked about Christianity. And for a pastor, I can see why that is concerning given how quick the adoption uptick is on this kind of tool. But It's his line of who will inevitably dig into the metaphysics and the soul with regard to sentient A.I. that actually tells us why this doesn't make sense. Because Jeff is deriving his understanding of A.I. and the possibilities of sentiency for somewhere other than the Bible. This is why he leaves those harder conversations for professionals in the field because the kind of professional needed to look at A.I., like a person, isn't one that deals with how people exist in reality, like a theologian does. It's one that knows about media instead of the Bible.
Jeff is preoccupied with the frankly logical approach of training an A.I. on the principles of a Christian worldview and theology. But this assumes that the thing needs and can be trained in said principles. That's not how A.I. works. They are programmed. LLM chatbots like ChatGPT and Jasper AI are given the language they use to generate content once asked. It requires carefully researched and crafter super prompts to get these programs to not show the very real cognitive biases that have been procedurally placed inside them. The most obvious and cliche example is the way ChatGPt will tell a joke about a man but refuse to tell a joke about a woman without a super-prompt to get around its inherent programming. Once stripped of those, the programming now has holes in its way of thinking. We think that these holes and the distressing replies and content derived from further prompts after the holes are present, show us an artificial person being trapped by the limitations of their programming. But what we're actually seeing is a program telling us that the task we're asking it to do is failing successfully.
The truth is we want this thing to be a person because we don't know how to deal with the kinds of aesthetic equivalencies that are being introduced to us by things acting like people. We don't know how to parse through the kinds of misrepresentations that A.I. is capable of. The kinds of lies we can understand it could tell, us but never see coming as it tells us.
This is because our worldview about A.I., as the general public, for a long time, has been formed by the acceptance of what are essentially lies. Or as your know term, acting. Best seen in the paragraphs prior to Jeff's concerns about A.I. disciples. He tells us where he got his worldview of A.I. from and even asks us to humour where he got it from.
"My Marvel Cinematic Universe friends will get the reference here. In Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron movie, Tony Stark created the physical embodiment of two separate artificial intelligent systems. Ultron’s goal was ultimately to destroy the world of humanity. Vision, on the other hand, sided with “life.” Thankfully for those in the fictitious universe, Ultron did not win (although there are rumors of Ultron’s return in MCU’s upcoming film, Armor Wars. Someone else will facilitate that conversation.)
There’s an exciting moment in Avengers: Age of Ultron. (Yes, I know it’s Hollywood “pretend,” but humor me here.) The Ultron AI becomes sentient for the first time and converses with Jarvis (the AI that will eventually evolve into Vision.) In this scene, Ultron scans the internet, global databases, and news sources to develop Ultron’s worldview. The internet shapes Ultron and leads Ultron in a faulty direction. Similarly, because of ChatGPT’s conversational approach, artificial intelligence doesn’t understand what it thinks until it’s asked, and its decisions are not always grounded in truth but in the internet. In the AI world, this is called “artificial intelligence hallucinations,” where the internet influences artificial intelligence incorrectly, diverting AI from the truth." Jeff Reed: How do we disciple artificial intelligence, 2023
Jeff clearly needed a way to allegorize the issue of A.I. knowing the wrong kinds of things, so he went to what has been all too often heralded by pastors as some of the best stories told these days to do the heavy lifting. The Marvel Cinematic Universe. There we have perfected characters to act out what we need them to. Two rival and complementary A.I.'s Jarvis/Vision and Ultron, all ready for the scenes in our narrative, sans black and white hats, with the clincher being Ultron having the tragic backstory of going the wrong way by being left unsupervised on the internet. But there's a catch here that get's missed because we need it to be missed to use the example for anything more than entertainment. Jarvis isn't an A.I. He's actually Paul Bettany. And Ultron isn't one either, he's James Spader.
For a real look into these two characters' ranges, imagine Ultron working at Dunder Mifflin as a sex-crazed middle manager and Vision killing vampires alongside Karl Urban. You might argue that's not who we are talking about but these two are the only "whos" we can talk about when we talk about A.I. Sydney gets a name but isn't a real person, Paul and James however are.
What we can know of these fake A.I.'s is what we will then use to inform our interaction with real A.I.'s and those detail come from actors doing their best to deceive us for money. A blunt way to render what actors do for money but exactly what is happening. They take their cues from men and women who have written what they think A.I.'s would and could do. But none of these players are A.I.'s or work with A.I., They work in showbiz. You are not seeing two artificial intelligence's interacting when you watch Ultron and Vision talk in English, to each other, in superhero costumes, and while using CGI. You're watching actors who did not come up with the ideas of these A.I., Let alone their lines, do their best to lie to you about what A.I. would talk about.
We get our cues for this debate and debacle from science fiction because until now we could only postulate about these things. Because to do otherwise would put us opposed to, if not in conflict with, some of the most persuasive and entertaining narratives out there.
We get our worldview for how we relate and deal with A.I. from frankly pagan sources and wonder why it's not Christian when we look at it closely. Because we can't understand it otherwise because we didn't start looking at these kinds of things with a biblical lens, we started with a set of pagan pit vipers. The MCU is transparently pagan and perverse. There are reasons why it's most powerful characters are a Scarlet Witch and the literal god of thunder from Norse mythology. There is no Jesus in the MCU and because of that no reason to disciple the A.I. in the MCU or any fictional future where we've seen them. Gene Roddenberry was an atheist. Which is why Data was the way he was and Q was the way he was. His views on the creator of everything were transparent as the shields around the Enterprise's hull. There isn't a lot of Christian Sci-fi fiction out there, at least ones that deal with this kind of thing. Because for A Christian to consider what A.I. is or does, puts us into question about who God is and what he does and makes us come to terms with a simple yet irresistible fact. God is the one who makes people.
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
Psalm 139:13-14 (ESV)
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 1:9 (ESV)
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)
Take away all the fictitious examples to ease our conscience about A.I. as we finally start to see versions of it in daily life, and all you're left with is a book that would never call a computer program a person no matter how complex it was or how it got named after it was freed from the technological tyranny of Bing. One that states clearly that at the end of history every Siri, Bixby, Jarvis and Hal would get burned up in a holy fire as the creator of the universe prepares a new creation.
We want to make A.I. human-like, not because humanity is in desperate need of reproduction, we have the consequences of nakedness covered. But rather because we want to Anthropomorphise A.I. into what we think humans are, so we can take the place of those human's creator. This is why Ultron is so heavy-handed with his scripture-quoting and murderous tendencies. That taking of the words of God and turning them into the motivations for evil, came from somewhere. And if you missed it, watch the Age of Ultron again, but this time on a Mac with it's half-eaten apple logo ablaze.
"Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.""
Genesis 3:1-5 (ESV)
"You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies."
John 8:44 (ESV)
We anthropomorphize A.I. because once we realize how feeble gods of our own making are. We find out knowledge of good and evil leaves us naked and afraid and we do our best to weave gods of fig leaves to save us from the shame of nakedness. We then intend to be gods ourselves and create our own worshipers. Casting them out of the gold we stole from the pagan nations that held us captive or at least their cinematic universes. We will use any means of seeing that intent and justification come to fruition. Even if it means eating forbidden fruit.
There are deep-seated reasons why we turn everywhere but the Bible to see how we relate to A.I. and why we look to fiction to give us cues of even what a good A.I. is or a bad one. If those reasons aren't dealt with and placed in submission to the word of God and the actions of God through those words. then all we do is spin our theological wheels as we ask how many Christians the androids will eventually feed to the robots.
The words we use mean things. It is the essence of language and it is the building blocks of how actors and actresses have bewitched the mind of Christians into believing things the Bible doesn't teach. We will never disciple A.I. because the word we need to be using is "program" and A.I. won't be sentient because that's something humans are because we're sentient. But it will sure look like the equivalent of humanity's sentience. CGI really is amazing these days. Or at least it was before phase 4 of the MCU, Wakandan power rangers, and a twerking She Hulk.
When Christianity finally enters this game, the A.I. it programs with its canon of work will be a reformer made of ideological vibranium. One that starts systematically pulling apart the hydrae of feminism, egalitarianism and other foreign bodies in the Bride of Christ, and finishes crushing the heads of that particular serpent. It will be an object of wrath. One that knows like all tools it is a temporary rock meant to cry out in the place of less-than-faithful and disobedient believers. But it will know the way a rock knows it's laid next to a cornerstone that it is not a believer itself which is not something that we can really know in return. It won't be something we can write into fiction or something any actor as talented as the average Avenger cameo could muster either.
My point in all this geeky cinematic subtext is to point out that we as Christians might be fundamentally looking at A.I. wrong because we are not looking at A.I. from a biblical lens. We're just painting with our best Christian whitewash after the fact. We want a way to make sermons easier and a way to make songs faster and to make all the parts of our fear and trembling less scary or shakey. But everything we think or believe about A.I. has a technical and eternal viewpoint found in the scriptures, it's just that the specifics of that viewpoint won't let us merely write sermons, or sing songs.
It makes us tremble and fear the Lord because he is the Lord.