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Will a robot take your job?

James Mildred

Artificial Intelligence
Human beings possess unique qualities such as creativity, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, complex problem-solving, empathy, adaptability, and ethical decision-making that are currently beyond the capabilities of AI systems.
Chat GPT

This week, oil giant BP announced they were cutting 55,000 jobs by 2030. And the reason? A shift towards replacing humans with artificial intelligence (AI). It’s an example of what the former chief economist at the Bank of England, Andy Haldane, called the ‘fourth industrial revolution’.

History buffs will know that the Industrial Revolution began in 1760 and lasted until the 1840s. It started in Great Britain and its effects were felt across continental Europe and across the Atlantic in the United States. It was a period of global transition of human economy away from manual labour, and towards a more efficient and stable manufacturing process. It saw new machines being used to replace hand production methods. It saw new chemical manufacturing and iron production processes, increasing use of steam power and the rise of the mechanized factory system.

Since then, historians have pointed to further examples of ‘industrial revolutions’, where new technology has changed the way we work. If Mr Haldane is correct and we’re on the verge of a new industrial revolution, then BP will the first among many companies and businesses who will have to fundamentally change the way they work.

The news about BP and its shift towards using more AI comes as the chief executive of Open AI called on US lawmakers to introduce more regulation. Open AI is an American AI research laboratory. In December last year, they launched Chat GPT-4, the latest chatbot with an increased ability to give human like answers to questions. Within minutes of launch, more than a million people had signed up for it. How it works is very simple. Ask it any question and, because it’s scoured data from all across the internet, the chances are, it will give you a decent, accurate answer.

It also responds to correction. This week, ahead of writing this article, I decided to ask it to tell me about CARE and what our mission is. Repeating an all too familiar mistake, it began to tell me about CARE International, a humanitarian relief charity. I pushed back and it had the good grace (and sense!) to apologise to me and then provided me with a good summary of who CARE (the ‘real’ one) is. Here’s what it said:

I apologize for the previous confusion. Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) is a Christian advocacy and public policy organization based in the United Kingdom. It seeks to promote Christian values and principles in society and engage in various issues such as family, human dignity, religious freedom, and justice.

CARE's mission is to provide research, analysis, and education on social, ethical, and moral issues from a Christian perspective. The organization aims to influence public policy, legislation, and cultural norms through engagement with policymakers, media, and the general public.

CARE advocates for policies that align with their Christian beliefs, including those related to pro-life issues, marriage and family, religious liberty, social justice, and human trafficking. They often engage in public campaigns, lobbying efforts, and media engagement to raise awareness and influence public opinion.

It's important to note that CARE should not be confused with the aforementioned humanitarian organization, Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE). The two organizations have different focuses and operate in different areas.
Chat GPT

Bear in mind that I’m reading this as Director of Communications at CARE. And I’m thinking two things simultaneously: firstly, that this tool will make producing web copy quickly so much easier! And secondly, will this AI take my job?!

The emergence of Chat GPT-4, the most advanced chatbot yet, has caused a sensation. For the last few months, columnists have used it to produce their weekly newspaper columns, church leaders have experimented with it to produce service outlines, complete with liturgy and call and response as well.

It’s also not been without it’s critics. In February this year, more than 2,000 industry leaders signed an open letter, calling for a six month pause on further AI research, to give time and space for lawmakers to catch-up.

What’s driving this concern is the sheer speed of change and development and the dystopian fears of where it could lead. For example, Chat GPT is by no means perfect and also free of ideological bias. Ask it ‘what is a woman’ and it will immediately start telling you that some people who are female are not biological women. Which is exactly what the falsehood of gender ideology teaches us. Some lawmakers are also concerned that increasingly sophisticated AI could help spread disinformation around election times.

More broadly, the potential for AI to be used in warfare is a big concern. In the last few months, I’ve read horror stories of robot armies rampaging over the earth. Then there’s the huge ethical questions AI raises for us about how we should best use it in areas like healthcare. For example, I think we all celebrate the use of robots and AI to ensure more effective surgical procedures and greater accuracy. But what about carer-robots? Would you want a robot to look after your granny? What if she’s got dementia? Wouldn’t a robot massively help, especially if you live some distance away and there’s no other help available?

I’m afraid I can’t offer specific answers to all the specific questions, mostly because I lack the expertise to do so, but also because these debates are still in their infancy. Moreover, there’s a lack of robust theological grappling with these issues. This is definitely an area where the church is already playing catch-up.

But let’s take a step back and see if we can’t pull together some biblical principles that will help us. I believe whole heartedly in the sufficiency of the Bible. It doesn’t tell me everything about everything. But it tells me something about everything and that ‘something’ is all I need to know.

My first reflection is that the media are always going to focus on the sensational and lean towards the dystopian warnings of killer robots and mass job losses. That’s how news media works: bad news is more sexy and interesting. But God calls me not to be afraid and not to worry about tomorrow in an unhealthy way. The media is not the place to explore the nuances in ongoing debates about the role of AI in our society. As Christians, we also know how the story ends. God promised to never again destroy the world as he did in Genesis 6-8. This world will endure until the last day arrives and Jesus returns. Whatever else AI will do to our world, it will not determine its ultimate destiny. That’s already been set.

Secondly, the Bible gives us a tremendously balanced perspective on technology. Biblical teaching avoids two errors: that of the luddites, where you hate all technology and reject it simply because it’s new. And also idolatry where you worship new technology and become so immersed in it, you end up dependent upon it.

In Genesis 1:28, God commands human beings to subdue the earth and to exercise a dominion under His Kingly reign. This is commonly called the creation mandate. It means God wants us to use our creative skills to harness the resources of the world He’s given us and creatively put them to use. Over the centuries, humans have done this by inventing and developing new technology. In so many ways, these have helped humanity. Think especially of the tremendous advances in medical technology that now means we can do far more to beat disease than ever before.

At the same time, the Bible teaches us that because of the fall, our relationship with technology will tainted by sin. We can create new tools that do enormous harm to others. We can become addicted to technology and utterly and overly dependent upon it so we withdraw from real, meaningful human relationships. A few years ago, Hollywood actor Joaquin Phoenix starred in a film called Her, about a man who’s primary relationship was with an AI system. To be clear: that’s not God’s better story for us. We were made to primarily love Him and to love other human beings.

One Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, called this the ‘I-you relationship, over and above the ‘I-it’ relationship. He argued there’s a depth and reality to I-you relationships that can never be replicated by our love for things. I think that’s exactly right. I-it relationships are purely functional and they are lacking in mutuality. Whereas the I-you relationship is a mutual relationship and involves a full experiencing of the other. It is deeper, richer and more complex. That’s what makes it beautiful and messy.

I also think that God's good design has given human beings an irreplaceable dignity. Psalm 8 says that God has made us a little lower than Himself and crowned us with glory and honour. One application of this reality is that we must master AI. We must never allow AI to master us.

Overall, I think we don’t need to panic, but we do need to be aware. We need to grapple with what AI means for our society. The church, of all places, needs to speak into this debate about the importance of real, genuine human relationships. In many ways, using robots to solve the challenge of family breakdown and loneliness is the easy solution. It’s much harder (because of human sin) to change culture so families do stay together and live closer and care for each other more. But just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should do something. As Christians, this is the sort of argument we want to make.

At the same time, we need to accept and rejoice even in the role AI can play for good. Perhaps the final word in this article should be from ChatGPT. I asked if it AI will replace humans. Here’s what it said:

The potential impact of AI on the future of work is a topic of ongoing debate and speculation. While AI has the potential to automate certain tasks and roles traditionally performed by humans, the complete replacement of human beings by AI is highly unlikely and unrealistic.

AI technology excels at tasks that involve data analysis, pattern recognition, and automation. It can be highly efficient and accurate in performing repetitive and rules-based tasks. However, there are several areas where human capabilities remain essential and difficult to replicate with AI.

Human beings possess unique qualities such as creativity, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, complex problem-solving, empathy, adaptability, and ethical decision-making that are currently beyond the capabilities of AI systems. Many jobs require a combination of technical skills and human skills, and the human element is often valued in areas such as customer service, healthcare, social work, leadership, and creative endeavors.

Moreover, the deployment of AI in the workforce is more likely to complement human capabilities rather than completely replace them. AI systems can assist humans by automating routine tasks, enhancing decision-making processes, and providing valuable insights. This collaboration between humans and AI, often referred to as "augmented intelligence," has the potential to increase productivity, improve efficiency, and create new job opportunities.

While AI may lead to shifts in the job market and require workers to adapt to changing skill requirements, it is more likely to reshape jobs rather than eliminate them entirely. As AI technology advances, it is important to ensure that its deployment is accompanied by ethical considerations, responsible governance, and policies that prioritize human well-being, job retraining, and reskilling.

In summary, while AI has the potential to transform industries and change the nature of work, the idea of AI completely replacing human beings remains highly unlikely. The collaboration between humans and AI is expected to be the more probable scenario, where AI enhances human capabilities and augments our work rather than replacing us.
Chat GPT

The key thing missing from the quote above is this: human beings alone can know God. And I mean really know. I mean know in the experiential sense. Chat GPT and AI might 'know' facts about God. But we human beings, we are made to be in relationship with Him and to enjoy Him as our heavenly Father. The saving of sinners remains God's grand design. And the saving of a soul remains a far greater accomplishment than anything the fourth industrial revolution will produce.

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Technology, Robotics, and AI

CARE is exploring the theological, social and practical implications of advances in artificial intelligence and robotics.

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