By: Akos Balogh
“In a few years, Cyberdyne Systems will create a revolutionary defense system. It’s called Skynet. A computer program that automatically controls the defense of the United States. The system goes online on August 4th…Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 am Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, the US government try to pull the plug. But Skynet fights back.”
Those are the haunting words of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Robotic T-800 Terminator character in the movie, Terminator 2. Skynet is the US military’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) that turns on its makers, destroying and enslaving humanity.
Skynet is the epitome of nightmares about AI.
While Skynet-level Artificial Intelligence is not imminent, many are sounding the alarm about the dangers of unregulated AI with the advent of chatGPT. And the spread of AI into everyday life raises the question of what it means for us as individuals, families, schools, workplaces, and society at large. How will AI impact us? Will we one-day face a ‘Skynet’ moment, like in the Terminator movies?
Over the last few weeks, I’ve taken a ‘deep-dive’ down the AI rabbit hole, listening to podcasts, reading books, taking courses, and testing it myself. And let me say, it’s been a roller-coaster ride of emotions, from dread at how this AI might eventually take our jobs and possibly even our freedom, to optimism about what AI could do for us.
Here are 12 things that I’ve discovered:
Microsoft Founder Bill Gates has said:
‘The power of artificial intelligence is “so incredible, it will change society in some very deep ways…The world hasn’t had that many technologies that are both promising and dangerous — we had nuclear energy and nuclear weapons”.
When a new technology comes onto the scene – especially one as powerful as AI – it doesn’t just ‘add’ itself to the existing technology we’re using: it often upends it, changing our society.
Think about how the iPod revolutionised the music industry: we no longer buy CDs (let alone cassette tapes). Instead, we download our music directly. We could say the same about cars (horses, anyone?), television, the printing press, the internet, and just about any new technology.
In the same way, AI will not just sit alongside our older technology and ways of doing things: it will probably replace much of it and change how we live.
In the biblical view of reality, humans aren’t machines we can discard when better machines come along. We need to care for our neighbours, who are made in the image of God, and who will be impacted by technological change.
Love for our neighbours should lead Christians to discern and influence how technology is developed and used, rather than just jumping on the narrative that ‘technological change is inevitable, whether we like it or not’.
AI is being used in all sorts of applications that have ethical implications: from hiring for jobs to predicting whether a criminal will re-offend. Concerns have already been raised about racial and gender bias in these programmes.
As Christian author John Lennox points out,
‘If the ethical programmers [of AI] are informed by relativistic or biased ethics, the same will be reflected in their products.’ 
This is why Christians should try and have a seat at the table of AI design, especially of AI products that have ethical uses.
Some writers think AI so transform society that humans will be changed into hybrid human-machine cyborgs or left in the scrap heap of history. Others argue that AI will eventually develop into a ‘Skynet’ type super-intelligence we see in the Terminator series of movies and enslave or destroy us. Those are dire predictions, but they’re far from becoming a reality (if possible).
But change has already come in less dire ways that have surprised us. Factory automations. Travel websites and financial software that has caused massive disruption among travel agents and stockbrokers. And, of course, Facebook and its algorithms impact society in all sorts of unintended ways.
These smaller-scale automations might not lead to global ‘Terminator’ scale cataclysms, but their impact on real people – perhaps even us – is real.
This is why authors Yuval Harari, Tristan Harris, and Aza Raskin wrote in the New York Times recently:
‘Drug companies cannot sell people new medicines without first subjecting their products to rigorous safety checks. Biotech labs cannot release new viruses into the public sphere in order to impress shareholders with their wizardry.
Likewise, A.I. systems with the power of GPT-4 and beyond should not be entangled with the lives of billions of people at a pace faster than cultures can safely absorb them. A race to dominate the market should not set the speed of deploying humanity’s most consequential technology. We should move at whatever speed enables us to get this right.’
We might think: ‘What’s the concern about the AI revolution? We’ve lived through industrial revolutions before and have come out the other end just fine’.
Yes, we might be fine now, but there were massive dislocations for hundreds of thousands when the industrial revolution began. It took some time (decades in many instances) before the gains of technology were shared across society at large.
Vladimir Lenin, the Russian revolutionary and leader of the Bolshevik Party, is quoted as saying: “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”
We’ve just entered a period in AI development where ‘decades happen’, with the release of chatGPT and a plethora of other AI software sweeping the market. The next few months and years will probably see rapid change in how society adjusts to AI.
NYT’s Tech columnist Kevin Roose writes about being at tech conferences, where starry-eyed tech executives talk about how their AI technology will improve society. But later, when talking to these same executives, he realises that many are driven almost exclusively by the bottom line. Which, in most cases, is selling their AI software to companies who will then get rid of their human workers in favour of automation (to save costs).
This skews the design and use of AI and can cause problems, as we’ve seen with social media programs like Facebook that have led society to become more polarised.
Similarly, Elon Musk and others have signed an open letter asking AI developers to put a 6-month pause on AI development (thinking especially about GPT-4) until ethical and legal frameworks can be implemented to guide its development. But with billions of dollars on the line, how likely is it that those companies and investors take notice?
AI is here to stay. But we all have some measure of choice in how we use it. And so, the big question we all need to ask is this: how can we use AI for good rather than be used and misused by AI?
With AI becoming so good at generating fake news articles, pictures, and even videos, we’ll all have to recalibrate how we view the news online. While ‘fake news’ and Russian bots have made headlines, we haven’t seen anything yet regarding disinformation.
Author Kevin Roose, in his book Futureproof: 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation, argues that how we’re preparing people for an AI-saturated world is wrong. Currently, the philosophy is to become more like a machine by learning code, optimising our time, and focusing on STEM subjects.
Roose argues that we need to become more human instead of becoming more like a machine.
We should focus on what humans can do that AI can’t (at least not yet!). This includes providing the ‘human touch’ in professions like teaching, nursing, clergy and air hostessing. Or focussing on occupations with constant changes and surprises (like teaching kindergarteners!), which AI cannot handle.
In the face of this blinding, uncertain change, it’s tempting to throw up our hands and become like the Amish, ditching AI technology.
But we can have a more significant impact for good if we cultivate digital discernment in how we use technology and help shape its use in our lives, our families, workplaces, and society.
 “Machine Bias” – a 2016 investigative report by ProPublica that analyzed a popular risk assessment tool called COMPAS and found evidence of racial bias in its predictions: https://www.propublica.org/article/machine-bias-risk-assessments-in-criminal-sentencing
 John C. Lennox, 2084 – Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity (Zondervan, Chicago: 2020), 144.
Article supplied with thanks to Akos Balogh.
About the Author: Akos is the Executive Director of the Gospel Coalition Australia. He has a Masters in Theology and is a trained Combat and Aerospace Engineer.