It has been fifty-five years since Stanley Kubrick sounded the alarm regarding artificial intelligence (AI). In his film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick envisioned a day when a computer could be taught to transcend its programming. Inventors of such technological advancements mean well: to advance the powers of humankind for good purposes.
But Kubrick drew our attention to the dark side that accompanies our technologies. He imagined that such a powerful computer program could learn to dominate its human creators. Our greatest technological achievement could be a self-made curse, to our own destruction.
This was all very fantastic science fiction back then. We have come a long way in fifty-five years. With the release of ChatGPT in November 2022, public attention to the possibilities of AI has skyrocketed. At the same time, influential voices have been sounding an alarm that echoes Kubrick’s film in some ways.
Technology guru Elon Musk made headlines recently when he alleged “civilizational destruction” as a real—if low probability—AI risk. An open letter published by the Future of Life Institute is signed by thousands who are concerned about the risk of AI “outsmart[ing]…us” and taking “control of our civilization.” Affirming the reality of such concerns, President Biden recently urged tech executives on the cutting edge of AI, “What you’re doing has enormous potential and enormous danger.”
“This was all very fantastic science fiction back then. We have come a long way in fifty-five years.”
These alarms may turn out to be wrong. On the other hand, history includes a long line of good-technology-becomes-curse-in-human-hands stories. Consider applications of our ability to split an atom, releasing immense amounts of energy. Nuclear technology is a source of abundant, renewable, and clean energy. Yet, at the same time, nuclear technology always threatens the possibility of global holocaust. Submarines that are both nuclear powered and nuclear armed provide a tidy symbol of the light and dark sides that belong to this technology.
Why is it that technologies created for good so easily—and so often—prove so well suited for our destruction?
When Cain murdered Abel, he had to use something. Perhaps a large rock. Perhaps his bare hands. He was a farmer, so maybe he used whatever sort of tool he had for farming (Gen. 4:2, 8). Whatever Cain used for the task, by doing so Cain discovered the dark side of technology. Whatever that tool was, Cain now knew that what could be used for good could also be used for evil.
“Submarines that are both nuclear powered and nuclear armed provide a tidy symbol of the light and dark sides that belong to this technology.”
From that day on, this knowledge has permeated human experience. It was the descendants of Cain through whom the greatest technological innovations came in the primordial world. Cain built the first city mentioned in the Bible (Gen. 4:17). Cain’s descendant Jabal, “was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock,” (v. 20). The descendants of Jabal’s brother, Jubal, invented stringed and wind instruments of music (v. 21). Their half-brother, Tubal-cain, “was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron,” (v. 22).
It was also Cain’s descendants who loved violence. Lamech, the father of Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal-cain, boasted that he had greatly surpassed the violence of his ancestor Cain (Gen. 4:23, 24). The line of Cain, then, was blessed with great technologies and cursed with great violence. In time, Cain’s spirit worked its way even throughout the descendants of righteous Seth (Gen. 4:26). By the time of the Flood of Noah, “the earth was filled with violence,” (Gen. 6:11). In the hands of Cain’s heirs, technology did not aid the improvement of human society. It empowered its absolute corruption (v. 12).
The potential dangers posed by AI technology provides another case of the same problem. But it may be that this case greatly amplifies the corrupting influence of human sin.
“In the hands of Cain’s heirs, technology did not aid the improvement of human society. It empowered its absolute corruption.”
Chad Ragsdale has pointed out that AI and similar technologies function to extend the human brain. He explains that we tend to rely on technology to do for us what we can do for ourselves, such as learning another language and remembering information. Yet, isn’t AI more than that? AI is not likely to become a conscious entity. Yet, isn’t AI something more than a database?
Generative AI, such as ChatGPT, demonstrates that AI has the ability already to create something that did not exist before. This implies another level regarding the way AI programming is able to discover and exploit relationships among facts and data points. This implies that AI bears the image of the human mind.
This should underscore the dark concerns many have recently expressed about AI. AI bears the image of the human mind, and the human mind is corrupted by sin. It is impossible for humans to impart only those aspects of our being that do not serve the “law of sin” (Rom. 7:23). This means that some form of negative consequence from the use of AI is to be expected according to the nature of things.
“AI bears the image of the human mind, and the human mind is corrupted by sin.”
What about the redemption of the human mind? Christians profess that with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit there is already a healing of sin’s effects upon the human being (Rom. 8:2). Wouldn’t this somehow reduce the level of evil among the natural consequences of AI technology? It would seem so. It is reasonable to suppose that there are Christians among those writing the programming for AI. If the corrupting power of sin is naturally a factor in how AI is taught to think, then the same argument goes for the sanctifying power of the Spirit in the minds of Christian programmers.
On the other hand, Jesus’ redeeming death on the cross and his regenerating gift of the Holy Spirit are given to humans, not to technological byproducts of the human being. The Hebrews epistle informs us,
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Heb. 2:14-15)
So, since AI primarily bears the image of the fallen human mind, we are wise if we are disturbed by the possibility for great destruction as a result of ever more powerful versions of artificial intelligence. Like our pre-Flood ancestors, human society will naturally bear the consequences of the sin that so thoroughly corrupts the present order of things.
“If the corrupting power of sin is naturally a factor in how AI is taught to think, then the same argument goes for the sanctifying power of the Spirit in the minds of Christian programmers.”
At the same time, therein is also our hope. Negative consequences of AI will be further groanings of the natural order for the time of its own redemption. By faith in Jesus, we join our Chrisian ancestors in the patient endurance that constantly watches for his return. On that day, the day of our “adoption as sons,” “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God,” (Rom. 8: 20-22).
Perhaps AI will learn to share that hope as well.
 Caden Pearson, “Musk Warns AI Could Destroy Civilization, Says Google Co-Founder Seeks ‘Digital God,’” Epoch Times, April 18, 2023 (accessed May 5, 2023). Pearson quotes Musk from an interview with Tucker Carlson, “AI is perhaps more dangerous than, say, mismanaged aircraft design, or production maintenance, or bad car production, in the sense that it is, it has the potential—however small one may regard that probability, but it is nontrivial—it has the potential of civilizational destruction.”
 Future of Life Institute, “Pause Giant AI Experiments: An Open Letter,” Future of Life Institute, March 22, 2023 (accessed May 5, 2023). The Institute writes, “Contemporary AI systems are now becoming human-competitive at general tasks, and we must ask ourselves: Should we let machines flood our information channels with propaganda and untruth? Should we automate away all the jobs, including the fulfilling ones? Should we develop nonhuman minds that might eventually outnumber, outsmart, obsolete and replace us? Should we risk loss of control of our civilization?” (original italics).
 David McCabe, “White House Unveils Initiatives to Reduce Risks of AI,” New York Times (accessed online 5/8/23).
 This is yet another issue for which dire warnings have been sounded through cultural means. Recall Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October and Richard P. Henrick’s Crimson Tide.
 All Bible references and quotes are to the English Standard Version, unless otherwise noted.
 Chad Ragsdale, “The Robots Are Coming,” Renew.org (accessed 5/8/23).
 Chad Ragsdale is skeptical of the possibility of consciousness in AI technology. See Chad Ragsdale, “Where Does Consciousness Come From? Reflecting on Emerging Technologies,” Renew.org (accessed May 8, 2023).
 “Explainer: What is Generative AI, the technology behind OpenAI’s ChatGPT?” Reuters (accessed 5/8/23).
 Recall what might be considered a natural law of computer programming: garbage in, garbage out. Likewise, other sorts of things that we make bear something of the personality of their makers. We say, for example, that the literature of Hemingway bears his distinctive “voice.”
 In the early centuries of Christianity, it was necessary to defend the belief that Jesus was both fully human and fully God (Col. 2:9). One of the outstanding spokesmen for this teaching was Gregory of Nazianzus (A.D. 329–390). Some opponents were called Apollinarians. They believed Christ was a divine mind living in a human body, but not having a human mind. In response, Gregory stated that the redemption of human souls is impossible if these opponents were correct. He wrote, “For that which [Christ] has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to his Godhead is also saved,” Letters on the Apollinarian Controversy 101, NPNF2, 7:440.