The simple defiant acts of gathering in a community of truth and securing textual truth may eventually seem like moderate or minor measures in view of the challenges that AI will bring. They are, however, priorities we can pursue now, coordinates we can set to navigate the brave new world that lies ahead of us.
It is difficult these days to know if the news around AI is alarmist or alarming. Experts differ, arguments and counter arguments are put forwards, and those of us in the non-specialist world are left somewhat adrift. Is AI tech an existential threat to the welfare of humanity or a virtual storm in an online teacup?
Regardless of where we land on the spectrum of concern, it is clear that major changes are in the wind with regard to our relationship to tech and our relationship to truth. There is a possibility that tech jobs, once a surefire arena for well-qualified people to be well paid, could be changed utterly by the terrible beauty of AI. Perhaps even more concerning is the fact that our relationship with truth, disturbed twenty years ago by postmodernism, could finally disintegrate thanks to its technological incarnation. For a ‘consult Google’ generation the concept that we could eventually be asking for the answers to life’s big questions from the echoes of yesterday’s ignorance is frightening indeed. Our base of knowledge could eventually be reduced to the aggregate of relativism’s unknowing.
There are many angles from which these discomforting possibilities can be viewed, but from the perspective of faith their impact on belief and theological knowledge are groundbreaking. Whether it is the final one, or one in a long succession, this latest ‘strong delusion’ is frightening in its proportions. How can believers think clearly about the issues of faith and AI? What priorities should we be setting now to prepare for what is ahead. Below I suggest two things that we will need to navigate the unknown path before us. Much more could undoubtedly be said.
You Will Need the Local Church
Medium and message have always had a complex relationship. Whether we think of the relative degrees of fidelity that manuscript culture attached to texts, or the seeming certainty and stability of meaning that the printing press introduced, how something is communicated matters enormously.
Until the late twentieth century, truth, text and meaning had physical embodiments. The great theological movements of church history depended on meetings, councils, encounters, premises, and argument, to reach consensus and resolution. The outcomes of those physical meetings was codified in multiple iterations of manuscripts that allowed access to what had been argued and decided.
The internet has at once democratised and relativised what we know as human beings. Ours is a wiki world, with editable data of debatable origins.