If you could order and pay for food with your palm, would you do it? Panera Bread café is hoping you’ll say yes to palm scanning, but first you should know the conditions: you’ll obtain a MyPanera membership, then link it to an Amazon One account that will use your palm scan as payment. The company will then know your name and your favorite orders at checkout.
What if advances like Panera’s palm-scanning technology were to be used for more than purchasing a meal? What if digital technology were to be employed to monitor everything we do and then to punish those who act in ways the monitors disfavor?
This is happening today.
“The greatest threat of all to our collective future”
The Kremlin is using facial recognition to identify and detain thousands of Russians who disagree with Vladimir Putin’s policies. According to political scientist Ian Bremmer’s The Power of Crisis, China is similarly using digital technology to monitor its citizens, giving them a social credit score in response to their alignment with the Communist regime. More than 2.5 million people have been barred from air travel as a result of poor scores, and ninety thousand have been denied high-speed rail service.
Bremmer notes that the same system could be used for dating sites, buying a home, getting a job and/or a raise, seeing the best doctors, or helping your children secure these advantages. A bad score might send you to jail. This system is already being used to monitor Chinese Christians and to close churches.
You might be thinking that this could never happen in America. But consider these facts from Bremmer’s book:
- The largest companies in American history are already gathering our digital data in “surveillance capitalism.” Every day, Americans generate about 2.5 quintillion bytes of data (2.5 followed by eighteen zeroes). This is feeding algorithms intended to sell us products and services.
- The average American is caught on security cameras 238 times per week; law enforcement is using this data and artificial intelligence (AI) to catch criminals, but this system can be used for other purposes.
- 5G is building the Internet of Things that will capture even more information, including genetic codes, to produce a “true global central nervous system.”
- Quantum computing can make it impossible to protect information via encryption, with ramifications for the security of our nation’s infrastructure from power grids and water systems to food security, public transportation systems, and a stable financial system.
Bremmer warns: “The greatest threat of all to our collective future will come from the unexpected impact of new technologies that change the way we live, think, and interact with other people and will determine our future as a species.”
“A fundamental risk to human civilization”
Yesterday we began discussing the opportunities and challenges inherent in the AI revolution now upon us. As I read further, I realized that this is a topic too large to summarize in a Daily Article, so I wrote a paper for our website: “ChatGPT and artificial intelligence: What you need to know.”
In it I quote a former research and strategy officer for Microsoft who told New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman that AI “represents mankind’s greatest invention to date.” Friedman agreed that “this is a Promethean moment” that will change every dimension of our lives.
AI presents staggering opportunities, from medical diagnostics and treatments to advancing scientific knowledge and education. However, as the late physicist Stephen Hawking noted, “AI could develop a will of its own, a will that is in conflict with ours and which could destroy us.” Elon Musk similarly warned, “Artificial intelligence is a fundamental risk to human civilization.”
How can followers of Jesus redeem the epochal opportunities and cataclysmic risks inherent in this “Promethean moment”?
“We must attack the enemy’s line of communication”
In Easter 1945, C. S. Lewis delivered a paper on Christian apologetics to an assembly of Anglican priests and youth leaders. He could have just as easily been answering our question.
Given his assigned topic, the preeminent apologist of the century must have surprised his listeners by stating, “I believe that any Christian who is qualified to write a good popular book on any science may do much more by that than by any directly apologetic work.” He explained his reasoning: “We can make people (often) attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so, but the moment they have gone away from our lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted.”
As a result, Lewis noted, “We must attack the enemy’s line of communication. What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects—with their Christianity latent” (his emphasis). For a materialistic secularist, Lewis predicted, “It is not books on Christianity that will really trouble him. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian.”
Here’s the point: AI in particular, and our broken society in general, desperately need the moral compass of the Christian worldview. To guide culture most effectively, however, we must do so from inside. We need Christians who are charismatic political leaders, brilliant screenwriters, exemplary businesspeople, and superlative athletes. The rest of us need to pray for Christians in such positions of strategic influence.
In the context of today’s article, we need believers who are preeminent computer scientists and will bring Jesus’ moral authority to their work. In the AI age now dawning, bedrock biblical values such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the sanctity of life will be needed as never before.
As I close this article, I sense the words of Isaiah 6:8 in my soul: “I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’”