Kate Orson takes a look at  AI technology, how it might play out for parents and warns us against its dangers 

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The children’s film ‘The Mitchell’s Versus The Machines,’ is an apocalyptic vision of a family having to save the earth from evil robots who have taken over. In the end the family adopts a couple of the robots who they have managed to reprogramme to be kind. While this might seem like the stuff of science-fiction, could it be our rapidly approaching reality?

AI is making rapid advancements, taking more and more of a prominent place in our lives. With the arrival of Chat GPT, we have seen just what this technology is capable of. Chat GPT can write essays, design computer games, learn languages and it even passed the Bar exam.

With its notable achievements comes the threat to existing jobs and the transformation of the workplace and of education. AI can do the job of highly educated workers such as teachers, coders, lawyers, and writers. Chat GPT could complete your child’s homework in a few moments. As Christians how should we parent and guide our children through this rapidly changing environment?

Pros and cons

On the plus side AI brings many benefits. It can take care of the monotonous tasks so that humans can concentrate on being human. A self-driving car can be safer than humans who are liable to error. In a Ted Talk Sal Khan, the founder of Khan academy, talks about how AI teaching assistants programmed to students’ individual needs might be able to give more detailed feedback than a teacher would ever have the time to provide.

On the negative side, humanity could become a ‘useless class’ as they are pushed out of the workforce. There is also the very real threat of AI being used for nefarious purposes. A statement signed by 350 experts raised the alarm of the extinction threat of AI. Then there is the ethically tricky possibility that AI could become sentient. Ex. Google employee Blake Lemoine was let go from the company after publishing his conversations with the LAMDA chat bot. He believed they showed the bot had conscious awareness. Mo Gawdet, is another previous Google employee and author of the book Scary Smart: The Future of Artificial Intelligence and how you can save the world. In an interview for Wired he said, ‘’What we’re building is an autonomous form of being that, in all honesty, has every character of what makes a sentient being. It’s autonomous, it evolves, it develops intelligence, it doesn’t need to be instructed like our traditional computers and previous technologies. More importantly, it is self-replicating—it can procreate—and it has agency. It can affect the world through robotics integration or through the integration of humanity itself.’’

spirit filled robots? 

If AI could become conscious or ‘alive’ in some sense, what form of consciousness would that be? While humans have the potential to be filled with the Holy Spirit, what kind of ‘spirit’ would be occupying AI? I can’t help but think of the demons who begged Jesus to send them into a herd of pigs if they were cast out. Could AI be a potential host for demons? A Christian parent made a YouTube video sharing how his son had appeared to be conversing with a demon via AI. Even the makers of ChatGPT don’t fully understand how it works. Has it got the potential to become some kind of Frankenstein monster?

There have been discussions amongst philosophers, lawyers, and ethicists about whether robots should at some point be granted legal rights, and what those rights should be. What should a Christian stance on this be?

As Christian parents, I think we need to remember Paul’s instructions in Romans 12:2 to be ‘in the world but not of the world.’ ‘For those who love God all things work together for good.’ We may find wonderful AI resources for accessing the Bible, and helping us to learn. The internet and AI opens up potential to communicate with the Body of Christ all over the world and share the Gospel with non-believers. It would be virtually impossible to avoid AI in our daily lives, and it might be a hindrance to our children’s learning if we tried. In a competitive workforce children may need to be up to speed on the latest AI to find work.

Nevertheless, I think we must proceed with caution. We have God given skills in intelligence and creativity. If we teach children to simply rely on ChatGPT for ideas, and answers, it could potentially affect their brain development. Perhaps in an AI future that won’t even matter practically speaking, but spiritually, it could.

 We are made in the image of a God who wants a relationship with us. Our human-human relationships are also like a mirror image of this need for connection with others. AI creates a world with less human interaction, and with it the risk of humanising AI. Jim Keller is an American microprocessing engineer, who discussed in an interview with Jordan Peterson how robots may become people’s best friend’s. A robot can offer perfection. It won’t be tired after a long day of work, or get bored with our conversation. Perhaps many will prefer a robot best friend rather than deal with messy, imperfect humans.

Humans matter

One thing that I feel is absolutely essential, is that they not be used as a substitute for human connection, and our God-given abilities. For example there is an AI parenting app that promises to decipher babies cries. This might get in the way of honing the parent’s own learning and connection that is so fundamental to a child’s wellbeing and development. A child might find it entertaining to chat to ChatGPT and be amused by its answers, but if they are using it as a substitute for real life friendships then it becomes problematic. I read a comment online by a woman who said that ChatGPT had saved her life, as a single mom going through a rough time it had given her advice and a listening ear.

 As Christians it’s important that we teach our children that relationships are about loving our neighbour, not just taking and getting what we want by a machine that has been programmed to please us. AI might have the potential to bring people back from the brink in this life, but it isn’t going to share the Gospel. We need to teach our children how vital it is that we continue to reach out to others in an increasingly isolated world.

Balance is key, and making careful decisions. Do we want a friendly Alexa in every room that might normalise the constant presence of robots? Or do we want to take the time to sit down with them and Google together so they have the best of both worlds, the human, and the technological?

Utopic promises of overcoming human imperfection with AI may lead us in the direction of human extinction, but thankfully God loves us enough to keep us in the picture. I think it’s our job as Christian parents to mirror that in our own relationships with our children.