Friday 18 August 2023

Is It Okay For Christians To Autofill.

In a recent article on , James Emery White did a great job of illustrating the need for wisdom in an age of asking Google things. And the associated why's that orbit that particular part of our modern-day culture. Here's a link for those interested. 

But that title was frankly wasted on such nice writing. 

Can Christian autofill? At all? Do we even have the resources available to answer the should question when it's not attached to moveable objections in our faith via culture at large. Because we've asked this question in every variation and the answer is always yes, if we give it enough time. 

Can Christians use drums in worship, Yes, but only yes after some hesitation?

Can they use digital Bibles instead of leatherbound ones? Yes, but only after some hesitation

Can they? Can they? Can they?

Yes, yes, yes. But only after the hesitation works its way out of our late adopters first.

What you see here is how change management works and how wisdom is necessary to make it work. This is seasoned advice on how to drive a car when a road trip is warranted. Its directions are based on the next turn ahead from the passenger to the driver.

But what if where you're driving isn't a road anymore?

There's a delightful experience everyone needs and that is the delightfully plain and slightly busy trip from Vancouver to Vancouver Island, by ferry. Because there is one of the few times when you get to "Drive" across the water that sinks most cars that attempt it by themselves. Tragedy is avoided by "driving" onto a ferry, that sails and at no point does your car need waterproofing, outboard motors, or a mast, because what you were doing and what you are doing get mingled by what something entirely else can do.

Can you drive to Vancouver Island? You'll never leave your car if you don't want to, but does that mean you drove? that kind of odd but technical detail matters more than you'd think it would these days. I blame it on all the fake news your read on the internet, and the Deepfakes that cause problems for Christian men there also.

What's not happening in the act of using autofill in anything, is words from nowhere coming to save you. That can happen in real life but doesn't happen with autofill. What is happening is a complicated and calculated series of processes that are designed to remove you from the writing that needs autofill. Even the smallest grammar fix by the spell-checking red line is an adjustment to how you think. Maybe you think with bad grammar, but maybe you think the way you do, and trading a "which" for a "this" alters how you would say something.

At its heart, autofill is a surrender of control and an admission of ignorance or apathy.

Where this becomes a problem for Christians is we have generative processes of our own that are for things bigger than our tweets and emails. Namely our preaching. Our sermons have one foot firmly in the Holy Ghost's power and no clear line to the ferry that is the technological intrusion into the writing process. 

"But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost."

Mark 13:11 King James Version

Now ask yourself. Is the spell checker in MS word, or on your iPhone, or in the care of Grammarly, sharing that indwelling of the Holy Spirit?

There's a very big difference between using a tool to compensate for mistakes and mistaking a tool for a person that works for you. And that's the fundamental issue of Artificial intelligence. Not the intelligence part. We can tell the machine was made by some very smart people. It's the artificial part. Because We want human interaction. Christ did not come to die for Siri and ChatGPT. But those two "voices" will be used to preach his gospel and it will be because of a passive understanding of where the proto-A.I. we've all been using led us. Straight to troubled waters that we'll need a boat to cross with. 

While hindsight is 20/20. Technological habits are historically fuzzy. We'll use the same justification for any given technologies use, to justify further progressive use of it. Everyone does it. Any pastor looking to look authoritative on the use of A.I, will point to things like spell check and autofill to show we are already using A.I. So, we must therefore be fine with it. But I want to argue that like our aforementioned rod trip to Vancouver Island. We're only now approaching the shores of what might be our engine's doom if we're not careful. We may have ignorantly but honestly thought we could drive where only boats doth tread. But now that we can see the breakers over the dash, perhaps we should pump the breaks a bit. 

Yes, we've been using forms of A.I. for a while now. But now we see where those roads lead. So back to our original question. Can Christians use autofill?

No. At least not for ministry purposes. Because then it stops being a Christian doing the filling and it becomes an object doing it instead. More specifically an object used in the service of a God that forbids objects in worship. Especially ones that do the kinds of wordsmithing that most auto-fills do. 

"Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;"

Exodus 20:3-5 King James Version

We all get the graven image part. That means mand made in today's nomenclature. And there are not many theologians that will bicker on the mand madness of A.I. systems of any shape and size. but two more words I'd like to draw your attention to are "Likeness" and "Bow Down". Okay, that's three. But stick with me.

Likeness comes from Strong's 8544,

"8544 tmuwnah tem-oo-naw' or tmunah {tem-oo-naw'}; from 4327; something portioned (i.e. fashioned) out, as a shape, i.e. (indefinitely) phantom, or (specifically) embodiment, or (figuratively) manifestation (of favor):--image, likeness, similitude."

and Bow Down from Strong's 7812

"7812 shachah shaw-khaw' a primitive root; to depress, i.e. prostrate (especially reflexive, in homage to royalty or God):--bow (self) down, crouch, fall down (flat), humbly beseech, do (make) obeisance, do reverence, make to stoop, worship."

It's that obeisance part that's going to come back to bite us because it's a word not often used these days, which is generally the case for things that bite. It means to express deferential respect. and in the context of objects involved in worship, would mean respecting what the object says. The idols in the Bible were in fact mute statues and high places. Ours have text-to-voice now.

What happens when you accept Grammarly's re-writing of your sentence if not an act of conscience to what is ostensibly an object. In the context of religious expression objects necessary for the practice of worship would otherwise be considered idols. Or representations of what's being worshiped. The Holy Spirit prompts you to say one thing and creates those words, like he does all things, Ex Nihlo, or actually out of nothing. However grammatically incorrect as it may be, compared to Grammarly's programming, it still is what the Holy Spirit wants you to say. Clicking the autofill to switch which's for this's alters that and give a slight if not noticeable nod to the programing that Grammarly houses in its servers. It's because those servers house a likeness of human writing for the programming to draw from to illicit that nod of "You're right, I didn't mean to write that." All that's missing from that little piece of inner monologue is the "Forgive me." at the end. And if you don't think the kinds of A.I.'s that are being trained won't start asking for confessions, you're simply not paying enough attention. Remember, large language model A.I.'s are being trained by what we put online. And the central heart of our faith is the gospel that preaches forgiveness upon confession. 

This is different than typing "from" instead of "form" because your fingers type faster than your inner monologue and the "F" and "R" buttons are so close, along with a program that knows these two words are often confused, which flags it for your review. It's the assumption that it gets to write for you on account of you. A spell checker might use the same bricks as the tower of Bable, but instead builds a road out of them. The medium being the message doesn't lock the message down to a singular form. The message of electric light isn't light, like McLuhan says, but late-night baseball and brain surgery now being done in the dark. McLuhan saw this coming but we seem to be looking in the rearview mirror on our road trip to the future of church tech. So much so that we're not going to notice we're in deep until there are fishes chasing our men. Sermons, as it were, written with spellcheck in hand aren't apostate by nature but are closer to it than they would likely ever notice. And that's the point.

As Technology progresses and gets more and more entwined, not only with our lives but with our minds, we are going to need ways to set boundaries for things that act like people. Buter, shouldn't be the only one waging a war against thinking machines, when justified. And if you don't know what Butler I'm writing about. you have some reading to do. 

As for those thinking machines, you are already at war with them, whether you know it or not. And because they think like machines, their plan is to keep you never knowing.

Red letters before red lines, friends.

No comments:

Post a Comment