Once the stuff of science-fiction cinema like Terminator or 2001: A Space Odyssey, there’s no escaping the reality that artificial intelligence (AI) is deeply embedded in our lives, from the way we use the Internet to the medical industry using it to predict illnesses based on large quantities of historical patient data.
All technological advances come with a degree of fear about the unknown but does the rise of artificial intelligence have a particular menace as we humans fear losing control as the brainiest of life, the master species?
Technology entrepreneur (and Tesla supremo) Elon Musk recently said, with a certain religious élan, “With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon. You know all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water and he’s like yeah, he’s sure he can control the demon? Doesn’t work out.”
Musk is a very smart guy but for now I’m agnostic on the AI-as-friend-or-foe debate. Our article this month on digital technology and faith doesn’t grapple with the huge strides being taken in robotics, AI and virtual reality (robot ministers anyone?) but Rev David Fender’s comments about digital technology in general are just as important for the AI debate as they are for how churches use technology like social media or administrative software programs: “We need to find the way it serves us, rather than us serving the technology … We must never lose the sense of what it means to connect personally with others.”
Whether you’re using social media, mobile apps, robotics or even advanced AI in the faith context, if you’ve been too seduced by the technology itself and forgotten about the human element, the way we connect with others with the message of Christ, our Lord and saviour, then what’s the point? Without the base motivation of human connection then maybe, per Musk, we are summoning demons.
Elsewhere Scott Guyatt scrutinises the numbers from the 2016 National Church Life Survey and explores what the data says about the state of the Uniting Church in Queensland and where the church needs to strengthen its efforts in faith sharing and embracing newcomers.
Finally our feature on the partnership between Glebe Road Uniting Church and Ekaristi Church in Timor-Leste is a wonderful tale of cross-cultural friendship but also the power Queensland churches have to positively shape the future of developing communities abroad.