Companies like Meta want bots that can finish your sentences and fulfill your desires. They want their bots to be your companions, confidants, and first source of information. The victor in this market isn’t the one with the most money to spend. It’s the one who provides the most intimacy and lures you in. Personalization and intimacy are the new market movers. The AI tidal waves are coming quickly. How can Christians stay anchored and avoid being swept away? How can they know what is true in a world of illusions and take up their cross in a world where our convenience and preferences are front and center? I want to offer four core practices, four ways of reorienting our lives and rehabituating our hearts.
What the Model T was to 1908, artificial intelligence is to 2023. Let me explain.
It’s the latest in a long line of innovations with the potential to drastically reorient our lives, changing the way we work, communicate, express ourselves, and live. And it’s something I never thought I’d have an interest in.
A few years ago, while I was a seminary student fumbling my way through classes on theology, church history, and biblical studies, if you were to mention artificial intelligence in a conversation, I would have looked at you the same way I looked at a Greek verb I needed to parse: foggy-eyed and more concerned with finding my next cup of coffee.
Now, I spend my days working for one of these notorious AI startups. Tasked with growing it as quickly as possible. I’m no longer up to my neck in Greek participles and Augustine; I’m swimming in the currents of digital waters. So whenever I come across someone who approaches the challenges of AI with an eye to what it means for our humanity, my ears perk up. For me, that someone is Dr. Radhika Dirks.
Dirks holds a Ph.D. in quantum computing and was an early pioneer in the world of artificial intelligence. The title of her talk at a recent conference I attended immediately grabbed my attention: The Human Implications of Generative AI And What It Means for Our Future.
Dirks spoke of the three waves of AI development. Along the way, she prescribed core skills needed by humans in each wave to endure them. Keenly aware of the impact AI has on our personhood, this scientist didn’t shy away from the big question: Who am I? What does it mean to be a person in the waves of AI?
The three waves she described are:
- Explosion of Creativity,
- The World of Illusions, and
- A Race to Intimacy.
The first wave, Explosion of Creativity, has already happened; it’s been marked by the democratization of artistic creation. With the rise in ChatGPT, Midjourney, and other tools, anyone with internet access can create logos, generate images, and write blog posts. What used to take years to master now takes minutes. I consider it the most exciting—and least harrowing—of the three waves. It’s also the wave that we’re currently in the thick of, so it won’t take up much room in this article.
It’s the other two waves—the ones that are just now reaching the shoreline of our lives—that present the greatest challenges to our personhood. For this reason, I want to share Dirks’ remarks regarding The World of Illusions and A Race to Intimacy and then offer four core practices for Christians to flourish within them.
The World of Illusions
In March 2023, unprecedented photographs began circulating across the world.
These photos documented Donald Trump’s arrest on the steps of a Manhattan courthouse. They showed a former United States president fighting off a group of NYPD officers attempting to detain him. With an aggressive scowl on his face and a sea of blurry onlookers, it was the kind of photograph that would one day make it into history books. Except it was completely fake. The product of AI.
This is the second wave of AI development, which Dirks refers to as The World of Illusions.
In this second wave, artificial intelligence grows more sophisticated in fabricating dreams, making them seem like reality. The lines between truth and falsehood reach a new level of blurriness. “Wars and rumors of wars” (Matt 24:6) takes on a new meaning when video footage of combat can be doctored up or created out of nothing in a matter of minutes.
In this wave, Dirks shared, “We will be living in the hallucinations of machines.”
A Race to Intimacy
After this world of illusions, the next wave gets far more personal. Dirks calls this third wave A Race to Intimacy.
We can see this most clearly in Meta’s new AI bot, “Billie.” Billie looks like Kylie Jenner and invites people to “message me for any advice.” Billie is the first in a wave of what’s coming soon: humanoid, interactive, highly personalized AI bots that tell you what you want to hear, recommend products you’ll love, and appear to know you as well as anyone. That’s why Meta is marketing Billie as “like having an older sister you can talk to, but who can’t steal your clothes.”
Intimacy is the goal of AI in the coming phases.