For the church, there are many potential implications posed by Artificial Intelligence (AI). With bots already here, and an AI who has Saudi citizenship, technological breakthroughs are happening at an unprecedented rate. The issue may not be confined to science fiction for long.

Church leaders in the US have signed a statement calling on their members to engage constructively with the issue of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The Evangelical Statement of Principles on Artificial Intelligence was signed in Washington D.C. in April. 

“We recognize (sic) that AI will allow us to achieve unprecedented possibilities while acknowledging the potential risks posed by AI if used without wisdom and care,” the statement reads. 

“We desire to equip the church to proactively engage the field of AI, rather than responding to these issues after they have already affected our communities.”

Southern Baptist Convention president J. D. Greear, pastors Matt Chandler and Ray Ortland; professors Wayne Grudem, Michael Horton and Richard Mouw were among some 65 conservative evangelical leaders who signed the statement.

The statement also makes mention of AI’s potential ramifications. It speaks into the politically contentious area of data mining.

“We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate.”

One other implication that AI poses is the potential ethical question regarding what constitutes a human being, and whether or not an AI might count.

Related to this is the question regarding whether or not an AI being could be ‘saved’.

The Washington Statement suggests that human beings are unique and special, denying “that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.”

By contrasts, other theological scholars have opened the door to the possibility that, should artificial intelligence indeed approach autonomy, it should be treated in much the same manner as human beings.   

Christopher Benek is an associate pastor at Providence Presbyterian Church in Florida with degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary. In 2015, he told Gizmodo “I don’t see Christ’s redemption limited to human beings.”

“It’s redemption of all of creation, even AI. If AI is autonomous, then we should encourage it to participate in Christ’s redemptive purposes in the world.”

An upcoming conference, held by the Australian Centre for Wesleyan Research will explore what it means to be human in light of the advancement of AI. The conference takes place at Eva Burrows College on 13-15 September 2019 and is now calling for papers.

Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor

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