In 2019, Jason Thacker helped craft “Artificial Intelligence: An Evangelical Statement of Principles” from the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ELRC), the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, which was one of the first public, theological statements regarding artificial intelligence and its implications. The Age of AI fleshes out the ideas discussed in the statement, giving more background, examples, and guidance.
Thacker begins with an introduction to thinking theologically about technology, introducing key concepts like the image of God and the role of technology in God’s command to “work the ground” and how humanity’s rebellion alters this. He also offers initial definitions of technology and artificial intelligence, before spending the subsequent chapters addressing how artificial intelligence will influence areas such as our sense of self, medical practices, family and relationships, work, war, and privacy. The final chapter explores what might be coming in the future, including the possibility of developing what is often called artificial general intelligence (AGI), a computer capable of human-level thought and even a sense of consciousness (178).
In each area, Thacker introduces readers to examples of how AI might be used in positive ways for human flourishing or negative ways that diminish the image of God. He is also careful to address some of the more subtle ways that using technology tends to shape our thinking. For example, under medical technology he cites the ways that AI can be trained to recognize problems in medical imaging that seasoned doctors might have missed, but he also addresses the tendency of computers to reduce humanity to data (67). Similarly, the technology that restores a damaged limb might also contribute to humans wanting to escape their bodies entirely and overcome death. Thacker weaves in parallel temptations in Scripture and regularly points readers back to the doctrines of sin, salvation, and resurrection.
Because of his work in the ERLC, Thacker is also keenly aware of the public policy implications of AI technology, making note of ideas like universal basic income (UBI) when discussing the future of work (115) and Google’s contracts with the US Department of Defense (135) when discussing war. Generally, Thacker’s argument is that AI, as a part of humanity’s God-given ability to create, has the potential for good, but Christians should also be aware of the immoral uses and ways of thinking that may come alongside these advances. In each of these areas, it is challenging to offer concrete direction or specific ethical guidelines without getting into too many details, so Thacker often introduces the core issues and then urges readers: “Don’t step aside; step in and embrace wisdom” (166).
Thacker’s book is intended for a popular audience, not an academic one, so he cites more futurists and technology news than previous works in the area of theology, technology, and media. This will get readers up to speed on the issues and prepare them for deeper exploration into the ethics and theology of the areas to which they are called.
About the Contributors
Channeling Eric Liddell, John likes to say, “When I code, I can feel God’s pleasure.” This desire to glorify God by showing how our creativity is an important aspect of our role as image bearers, drives John’s work and teaching. A former youth pastor, he enjoys working with students to see how the biblical story brings insight and clarity to the ideas found in science, sociology, and culture. John is married to Amber, a literature and philosophy professor and has two lovely children.