The Table Podcast
John DyerJohn DyerDarrell L. BockDarrell L. Bock

Discovering a Theology of Technology

In this episode, Dr. Darrell Bock and John Dyer discuss approaching technology from a biblical worldview.

Timecodes
00:16
Dyer's journey into the technology industry
04:24
Results of technological advances in today's world
09:03
Discovering a biblical theology of technology
15:07
Trends and tendencies in the use of technology
20:32
Our ability to create new possibilities with technology
23:15
Artificial intelligence, the Cloud, and the future of working with technology
29:57
Engaging with advances in artificial intelligence
36:07
Exploring ethical questions behind technological innovation
Transcript
Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table where we discuss issues of God and culture. I'm Darrell Bock, Executive Director of Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. And our expert today, to discuss technology with us, is John Dyer, who is responsible for communications here at the seminary.

John, welcome.
John Dyer
Glad to be here.
Darrell Bock
Okay. So, how to introduce this? Well, I thought the way to introduce this is just confess I'm a dinosaur. That back in the day, when I first came to seminary and you typed a thesis – right? – you typed it on a – in fact, we thought we had died and gone to Heaven when we got a Selectric that had a Greek ball on it that could print the Greek text. But you had to do your piece of writing, and then you had to figure out how much space you needed for the footnote at the bottom of a page, and if it was wrong, you had to redo the page. You know the era that I'm talking about?
John Dyer
Yeah, that's right.
Darrell Bock
So, I've come a long way.
John Dyer
But I'm sure, you know, the guys before that, before typewriters, would say, "Cry me a river, Darrell."
Darrell Bock
Exactly right. Exactly right.
Darrell Bock
Remember the quill pen?
John Dyer
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
So –
John Dyer
That's right.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, so –
John Dyer
But I do remember asking you for something the first time, maybe four or five years ago, and sending you an e-mail with a manuscript and saying, "Can you endorse my book."
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
John Dyer
And you e-mailed – you read the whole book and e-mailed back an endorsement in 45 minutes.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, yeah.
John Dyer
And so, I don't know how much a dinosaur there is in there.
Darrell Bock
Well, I'm a learning dinosaur. Okay?
John Dyer
That's right; that's right.
Darrell Bock
All right, yeah. No, I tell people that technology has probably made me four to five times more productive than I would have been otherwise, because it allows me to do things and organize things in ways that I don't – wouldn't naturally do otherwise. So, that's my confession.
John Dyer
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
So, what's yours? How in the world did you get into the area of technology and an interest in technology?
John Dyer
Well, I think I always enjoyed technology growing up. I mean I grew up in the era when you could build your own PC, and my dad would come home with a new part, and he said, "Wait till I get home. Don't touch it." But I would always have to touch it and mess with it.

So, I grew up liking that stuff, and yet, when I was a kid, that wasn't very popular to like. So, I always kind of hid it, tried to act like I liked sports and sports ball and all that, but then hide my computer stuff in the background.

So, it wasn't until I took a job as a youth pastor, and I didn't make enough money, that I finally had to go out and get a job in technology, and that's how I knew just enough about how to make a website to fake my way into a Web job and learn on the job.
Darrell Bock
Oh, okay, all right. And, of course, you've designed – originally designed some of the things that we deal with here on a regular basis; so, I think you for that.
John Dyer
Yeah, sure.
Darrell Bock
So, technology, you know, there's a lot of discussion about what it does and doesn't do for us. Is it good, bad, indifferent? There's so little theologically at stake, I think, here in this question maybe – maybe not. So, where are you on that scale? Talk about the range of things about the way we ought to think about technology.
John Dyer
Yeah. I think toward the end of my Seminary career – so, I'd been working at the Seminary, doing a lot of Christian Web stuff and basically just had the approach that if I do good things instead of bad things, that's pretty much all I needed to think about with technology.

And then people started giving me these books that had titles like Is Google Making Us Stupid? and How Television is Ruining People's Minds and all this stuff. And it made me think like, "Well, maybe there is something wrong with what I'm doing."

And so, it seemed like most Christian writing on technology is either how to – like how to use it to make your ministry bigger and all that kind of stuff, or how it's morally bad and scary. You know?
Darrell Bock
Ooh, doom and gloom.
John Dyer
And so, there's not as much thinking about the more subtle changes that happen with technology when you incorporate something into your own life or your ministry or your job, how things shift in ways that aren't really easy to define morally.

So, I got more interested in looking at those things and how most of the way technology affects us is more subtle than just good vs. bad.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
John Dyer
And so, that's why I would say that the idea that technology is simply neutral, you just need to use it for good, isn't really a useful way of talking about technology, just because whether we're using it for good or for bad, it still is going to have some other subtle, unintended consequences.
Darrell Bock
M-kay. So, let's build a ledger.
John Dyer
Okay.
Darrell Bock
Okay? What's good about it? What's bad about it? I'll let you – we'll be positive first, okay?
John Dyer
Okay. Well, here, I'll give you an example of like this good vs. bad that I –
Darrell Bock
Okay.
John Dyer
Before we're even into modern microphones and phones and all that kind of stuff, if we think about just like a shovel – this is an example I like to give – and you can use it for good things like building a church, and you can use it for bad things like axe murdering people. But –
Darrell Bock
You've seen too many movies. [Laughs]
John Dyer
Yeah, we're recording just after Halloween.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, right.
John Dyer
But whether you're using it for good or bad, at the end of the day, you get blisters. Right?
Darrell Bock
Right.
John Dyer
And then, over time, your muscles grow and those kinds of things. So, it really doesn't matter, the morality of your usage; you still are shaped by the tool that you use. So, if you extend that out to other things, you can find lots of unintended things like that.

So – and going back to my youth pastor days, half the kids had Bibles that they would bring, and we'd hand out the Bibles to the other kids. And so, this was just when projectors were becoming popular at Churches. So, I asked for a projector to put in, started showing the Bible at church, and then I found that none of the kids brought their Bibles anymore. Right?
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
John Dyer
So, at first, I'm at a Bible church. I think this is going to be a terrible influence of technology. Even though I'm using it for good, it still is having this sort of bad, unintended consequence. But then I realized that the kids who did bring their Bibles, they had their own names stamped on 'em. They chose their own version, and some of them had cats on 'em, and some of them had youth study Bible, and they were all different, and it was all about their own individual faith.

But when you show the Scripture up on a screen, now everybody is looking at the same passage at the same time, and it's more like it was before the printing press.
Darrell Bock
'Cause all wording's the same.
John Dyer
Yeah, the wording's the same, and we're all looking at the same thing at the same time. Instead of it being the individual's Bible, it's back to being the community's Bible. So, those are both unintended consequences. Both are one's good and one's bad. And I think looking at it that way, to me is sometimes more interesting than just the good vs. bad stuff.
Darrell Bock
Well, I tell people I don't have a Smartphone; I have a spiritual phone 'cause I have a Bible in it.
John Dyer
That's right.
Darrell Bock
So – you know? So, it's that kind of an idea. And it actually – it's interesting how people react, because some people say, "I've got a be looking at a page," and other people are quite content to be paperless and do it that way. But you're right, there are unintended consequences of what technology means.

So, let's talk about another category that people don't think very much about. We were talking about this a little bit before we started recording, and that is what happens with jobs? There's an unintended consequence with jobs. We tend to think, "Well, jobs have simply moved from one location to another, but they've actually moved into a different mode than another, and that actually complicates the picture a little bit.
John Dyer
Yeah. The original term "Luddite" that we used to describe someone who doesn't like technology, that comes from the era of these looms being built, where people used to hand make all the clothing, and then these looms would come in, and it would go a lot faster, and so, people were losing their jobs. And so, they would go and they'd burn these new ones.

And there was this leader, Lud, that they all liked, and it's all this – it's very legendary, but that's – that's where the term the Luddite comes from, from people losing their jobs.
Darrell Bock
Right.
John Dyer
So, it's not just about being anti-technology, it's about technology taking away jobs. And if look back at the turn of the century, the number one job in America was farmers. And that's not that way anymore. So, all those jobs went to machines. And right now, one of the biggest jobs in America is truck driving, driving of all kinds. Uber, taxis, all that kind of stuff. And those jobs are going to go away in the next 10 or 20 years.

So, even here in Dallas, I think Uber just met with all of their people to say, "In three years, you're not going to be a driver anymore; we're going to have machines for this." So, there's always this movement of technology coming in and doing jobs.

And the theory is that, hopefully this frees up people to do more creative things and less manual labor, but in that disruption, it can be really, really hard for people.
Darrell Bock
And it requires people get the education and training to move into those spheres, and there's a generation that doesn't get trained that way, so they end up being left out in the process. So, the risk is they'll be left out in the process.
John Dyer
Yeah. And so, in America, there's this whole movement of all the manufacturing jobs being shipped overseas, but if they ever do come back, they'll come back for robots, and someone needs to be trained to be over that or to do some other job – maybe that's sales or marketing or something like that. But yeah, you need the new training.

So, when we talk about jobs in American politics, a lot of that has to be training as an adult, because it seems like, in a prior generation, someone might have a job for 40 years or 50 years, and they retire. And now, people change every five or ten years. And from my generation and below, that's just sort of the normal thing, but it's very disruptive and difficult.
Darrell Bock
So, let's talk a little bit about, if I can say it, the theology of technology –
John Dyer
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
– if there is one. What – how do you – how do you get people – well, first of all, it's like gun control, right, in talking about this biblically, in that – and I tell people, "When you find the word gun in the Bible, let me know. And if we're waiting to go to a meal for you to find it, I hope you're ready to fast." You know?

So, obviously, the way into that conversation, in one level, is thinking through how violence works and that kind of thing, and then working with principles about what you're dealing with. So how do we think about technology biblically? I mean obviously computers postdate the Bible. So – and technology, to some degree, postdates the Bible. So, how – what's your hermeneutical weigh-in in thinking about this?
John Dyer
What I first start with doing is saying that most of us, when we even think of the word "technology," we're going to think about things that were invented after we were born. So, everything before we were born – even airplanes and light bulbs and all this stuff that would have seemed like magic before – those things don't seem like technology to us 'cause they were around when we were born. That's why my kids don't think of phones as really being that interesting, 'cause they've always known them. And so, they think my laptop is broken 'cause they can't touch it.
Darrell Bock
[Laughs]
John Dyer
So, everything before we were born is just stuff, and then from 0 to 30 is the cool stuff you can build your career on?
Darrell Bock
Yeah, yeah.
John Dyer
And after 30 is the destruction of society [laughter covers speaker]. So, that's from Doug Adams in –
Darrell Bock
Yeah, yeah.
John Dyer
– would say that. So, I think – I say all that because we need to broaden our understanding of technology to be kind of things that people make that are tools that go way, way, way back. So, if you look at – somebody invented a table at some point, and if you watch Mel Gibson's The Passion, it was Jesus. He [laughter covers speaker] in that scene.

But I mention Jesus, too, because our word "technology" comes from the Greek term tekton right?
Darrell Bock
Absolutely, yep.
John Dyer
Which we translate as carpenter. So, that originally was someone who was an artist and a crafts person, someone who made useful things. So, if we look – go back and back and back, all the way back into the garden and God saying, there in that second story in Genesis 2, he's saying, "Okay, there's no plants here, what's the deal?"

And he says, "There's two reasons for that. There's no rain, and there's no man to cultivate or to make things from it." So, I think even in the beginning, in Genesis 1 and 2, God is saying, "Here is creation; I want you to make cool stuff from it. So, I want you to make tools; I want you to make bridges over the rivers and move these things around." I think he's always envisioning us as being people who are going to make things and make from what he's made.

And then we look to the end of the story, and always it's ending in a very physical world full of roads and trumpets and banners and cities. And most of our eschatological visions don't say, "God wants to get rid of things." It says, "He wants to take swords and convert them into plowshares." Right?
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
John Dyer
He wants to take things that we meant for destruction and make them into things for human flourishing. So, I don't think humans were made to exist without tools or made to exist without what we would probably call technology.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. It's an extension of a mandate that we often talk about when we do Faith and Work podcasts, which is God has called us to manage the garden, the Earth that he's given us, well, and that takes creativity. We're made in the image of God to have that creativity, to engage in that kind of management and in those kinds of relationships that they generate, etcetera.

And so, in one sense, what I'm hearing you say is that technology's been with us, basically, from the beginning.
John Dyer
Yeah, yeah. And then if we think about specific kinds of technology, a lot of what's in the Scripture is communication technology. So, there's certainly stories about David going over with the Hittites and stealing iron smelting technology, and then later on you start to see them using iron and beating the Hittites with it and those kinds of thing, or Paul with the Roman Road and all that.

But a lot of what we do with this communication technology, and even in the garden, Adam is there, creating language and words. And we talk a lot about our tone and the language we use, and depending on the words we use to describe people, that shapes what we see and what we don't see about them. Right?
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
John Dyer
And so, we even see that creation in the garden. And even the New Testament authors, you see them occasionally wrestling with when should they write something, using that medium of that day, and when should they go face to face. So, Paul and John kind of go back and forth on that.
Darrell Bock
Now, that's an interesting segue, 'cause now you're making me think through a whole role of social media as an extension of technology and what it can and can't do for us sometimes, of which, probably the most obvious is is that sometimes social media isn't the best medium in which to communicate, particular in areas of controversy, because you – not only is your choice of words, but you don't have the tonal aspects of speech to help you understand the framing of what's being said and how it's being said, that kind of thing.

And so, people use a medium that sometimes can be difficult to communicate shades of nuance and emotion in ways that are appropriate, particularly in sensitive areas, and it ends up backfiring on them in terms of the communication.
John Dyer
Yeah, you know, we're in the Bible Church movement, right?
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
John Dyer
And we believe in communication and preach the word, and those are all really good things. But our moms always told us, growing up, that 90 percent of communication is nonverbal. Right?
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
John Dyer
It's all your tone; it's your hand gestures; it's what you're wearing. It's all that stuff. There's so much beyond just the words that actually communicate to people, and I think it's the same when you use any kind of media, whether that's a text message or Facebook or whatever it is, there's some priorities of that device that get communicated alongside of whatever it is that you're saying.

So, I think being aware of that is important. And there's this little, great passage, at the end of 2 John and 3 John, where he's making this differentiation between things he wants to do face to face and things he wants to do with pen and ink.

And then you have Paul, in the Corinthian letters, sometimes saying, "I wanted to come to you, but I thought we would have fought, and so I wrote you a letter because I thought that would be more redemptive. And then once you've dealt with that, then I can come to you face to face.

So, I think even there, wrestling with – not that one is good and one is bad, but that they do different things and they accomplish different things – and being aware of that, I think, is going to be helpful for us going forward, too.
Darrell Bock
So, how do you advise people on their use of technology? What types of things do you think we should be aware of as we think about their usefulness? You know, another story/self-disclosure is something gets released. I'm immediately on it. My wife says, "Let's wait awhile and work the bugs out." You know?
John Dyer
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And I have a son-in-law who actually – his job is he actually does the replay work for Fox Sports, the number one NFL team. He manages the truck that does all the replay work for major sporting events, including the NFL. So, he's highly, highly trained technologically, but he's another waiter when it comes to releasing of stuff.
John Dyer
Yeah. You know, what you do in your job sometimes you separate from what you do in your personal life, 'cause you just can't keep up that pace all the time. But I think a lot of people feel pressure, too. They feel like they have to comment on everything and that there is a sense that if you don't say something social media wise, that you don't exist. Right. Like, "I post, therefore I am." You begin to feel that way.

I know now, when I log into Facebook, it will often say at the top of it – it'll say, "One hundred and fifty of your friends have posted today. Why don't you post, too?"
Darrell Bock
Right, right, right.
John Dyer
I don't have anything cool to say then.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Darrell Bock
My attitude is very, very different, "I don't post, and therefore, I survive."
John Dyer
Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Darrell Bock
So, yeah. So –
John Dyer
Yeah, I think anything that we do regularly has the capacity to form us in some way. Right?
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
John Dyer
So, that's exercise, or eating, or – you know, when we walk into a gym, we choose different tools because we want it to literally shape us in different ways.
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
John Dyer
So, when we're thinking about how we consume media or use it, we want to think about how that shapes you little bit. And I even think about Facebook, at the beginning, a lot of people will say, "Facebook makes you narcissistic." I don't think that's a really useful way to talk, but when you do look at the top of it, it says, "What are you thinking about?" Or, "What are you doing?" And there is this thing that, in order to do it, you have to be thinking about yourself. You know?
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
John Dyer
So, the more you do that, the better you get at thinking about yourself. So, there is this tendency, in that direction, that happens. And so, I think you have to watch out for what are those tendencies and then think, "Does that align with the values that I want to have? Do I want to become that way?"

So, if you want to get really good at reading long novels, you've got to practice that instead of reading short things all the time. And if you want to get really good at consuming lots of short bits, that's great. So, you would just kind of think about, "How do I want my mind and my soul and my body to be," and then think about how you want to consume to shape it in that direction.
Darrell Bock
Now, another thing that often comes up in relationship to technology – this is really a potpourri; there's no rhyme or reason to the way I'm doing this.
John Dyer
All right.
Darrell Bock
But another thing that comes up is is that the way in which technology gets us to think is different. And here I'll use the analogy of, again, when I grew up, and you laid out an idea, you did it by an outline. So, A, B, C, D and all that. And you had a structure to it.

It operates very differently than a web page. You go to a web page, and you've got that thing, and you got – you're full of choices, and you can do it in any order that you want, etcetera. And so, some people have argued that that has messed with the way we think and build and our understanding and appreciation of how arguments are built and that kind of thing. Do you have a take on that aspect of thing?
John Dyer
Yeah. I definitely think that knowledge rearrangement is a huge part in the sense that we have a very foundational and building approach that we sort of used to use. But I think, too, about – the other day I went in to change a light bulb in my car. And so, I immediately went to YouTube, found a video that told me how to do that. And I didn't take a class on engine dynamics or any of that stuff.

Or when I go and I want to change something under the sink and just fix it, I want to find a guy who shows me the video, and I don't really care about taking all these classes on how plumbing is supposed to work. I don't want any of the foundation. I just want –
Darrell Bock
In the beginning, plumbing was...
John Dyer
Yeah, yeah. So, I skip right to it. So, there is that overall mentality shift. And then, I think if you were to look back in human history, most people would say that the advent of the printing press in reading started to shift the way people thought a little bit, and you really begin to, say, see the real formal development of systematic theology post printing press.
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
John Dyer
So, even the way we do Christian theology has shifted in that way. Even verse-by-verse preaching that we love here didn't happen before verses were included.
John Dyer
Yeah. And verses were originally – I love telling this story – when verses and chapters were originally invented, people complained that the Bible had been messed with. You know? It was seen as an innovation that, "Nah." In fact, I think the joke is is that the guy who invented it was on a trip in a – what do you call those things – not a – a horse and carriage, yeah. He was in a carriage, and someone said, "It must have been a pretty bumpy road he was on," 'cause they didn't like the way he divided the text.
John Dyer
Yeah, it's Robert Stephanus, and he writes a letter to his son saying that, "I did it along the way," from this place to this place. And so, it almost seems like he just bounced along [laughter covers speaker] in some of those.

But yeah, I mean that's something we take for granted now. We think in terms of verses, and we think in terms of bumper stickers and all those things. But those – you know, Jesus didn't have life verse. [Laughter covers speaker] He didn't have one. Neither did Paul or neither did Augustine.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, he had a life.
John Dyer
Yeah, and those are different.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. So, what I want to do on the other side of the break is I want to talk a little bit where technology may be taking us. So, let's kind of pull this together and say – so, what's kind of your bottom-line in thinking about technology? Obviously it shapes us; it impacts us. It does cause us to do things, perhaps, in a little different way, and that does impact us. But it's something that – it certainly can make us much more efficient.
John Dyer
Yeah. I mean I think that if you look at, statistically, over the last century or so, we can see that worker productivity does go up, and that's definitely a good thing. At the same time, there's a lot of new kinds of problems that we have to deal with. And an easy one to talk about that we all know morally is, say, pornography. That this is something that used to be kind of out there and it's coming closer, and closer, and closer to home.
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
John Dyer
So, those are new kinds of things. And yet, those are issues of the human heart that we always have. It's not that technology makes you do something; it's just that it opens up new possibilities.
Darrell Bock
That's right.
John Dyer
So, what I want t think a lot about is what does the technology afford that may be – or open up to me that I didn't have before? And usually I want to think about technology in terms of it, if it's shifting, to use Andy Crouch’s language "shifting the horizons of what's possible –" so, a megachurch enables you to do all kinds of neat ministries, but it disables you from knowing the pastor, or certain things like that – and work through all those so that we're not making snap judgments about whether or not this is good or bad, but just recognizing the changes and then seeing which ones we might need to work against.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. I have an analogy that works with online education that actually works this way. I did an online class in Australia; it was in Perth, Australia. I did six weeks of online work with the students before I ever walked into the class, and I found myself knowing more about those students and what they needed, when I got to the class, than I had ever had in any class I had taught in almost 25 years of teaching before I did this.

And all of a sudden, I recognized that what happened is is that the dynamics of pedagogy had changed. There were certain strengths and weaknesses; there are certain things that I gained, and there were certain things that I lost, but the experience overall just needed to be crafted to the medium that I was in rather than saying, "Oh, this is all good or all bad."
John Dyer
Yeah. And I think, too, when something new comes along like that, it lest you examine the old a little bit more closely, because there's a tendency, I think, maybe 10 or 15 years ago, to say, "Classroom good; online bad." You know?
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
John Dyer
And I think looking at the online and saying, "There's some neat things about this that maybe helped me say not everything I was doing in the classroom was all that helpful," and learning from both of those.

So, I think technology's at its best when it's kind of a mirror. It helps us evaluate things and see new things that we didn't see before.
Darrell Bock
All right. So, where is thank you taking us? Where are we going? We've already suggested one thing that maybe we can dive into a little more, here at the start, and that is it's – on the one hand, it's taking jobs from us, and it's creating new jobs in the other.

I think about when I grew up – okay? – and I was doing this, but when I grew up there was no really such thing as IT. I mean the people who worked in computers were the exception rather than the rule. A whole set of industry and a whole segment of our economy now is tied to what happens technologically.
John Dyer
Yeah, yeah. I think if you think about – one of the ways of thinking about technology is as an extension of some natural function. So, it's real easy to think about that with microphones or telescopes. It's real obvious. But most of the technology the last 20 or 30 years has been kind of extending some kind of mental capacity for us.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
John Dyer
And I think that's what makes it different. And the other thing is that it's accelerating much faster than it was before. So, we get a major thing every few centuries, and then every few decades, and then now it feels like every few years that something new is coming along.

So, I think certainly one of the biggest ones, I think, will be the artificial intelligence phenomenon. And whereas at the turn of the previous century, from the 1800s and the 1900s, electrification was the big deal – so, you can take a water pump and add electricity to it, and you had a new product.
Darrell Bock
Uh-huh.
John Dyer
Well, it seems like now you take artificial intelligence, and you add that to a product, and you have something new. So, the most obvious one of those, that we've talked about already, is the self-driving cars. But it seems like there'll be a number of other things that people will try, and 9,000 of them will fail and 1 will make it. Right?
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
John Dyer
So, that'll be a big disruption in terms of jobs.
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm. The other metaphor that I think of, as a picture of kind of the way technology works, is the "cloud." You know? It's sitting back there. You don't see it, but it's certainly operating. The whole way – and if you ask people, "Well, how does the net actually work," they aren't aware of all the – I don't how else to describe this, so, I'll use very amateurish language – but all the networking that's required, all the linkages between computers and the way the routing works and that kind of thing. It's all invisible to most people.
John Dyer
Well, yeah. So, there is a tendency of technology, over time, to become invisible. When it first comes out, it's a toy with it. Right? And then we figure out how to use it, and it becomes this great tool. So, eventually, it just becomes part of the environment. So, most of us don't think about electric lighting, and we don't take fasts from our refrigerators. You know? These are just not things that we do. And I think, over time, most of them fade on into the background.

So, 20 years ago, there were these big worries that people would have these radically disjunctive lives of online and offline. But now most of us are always weaving it together.
Darrell Bock
That's right.
John Dyer
We're always doing a mixture of those. We're texting someone to meet them in person and then sending them something afterwards. So, we move very fluidly through it, and I think even eight-ten years ago, the fact – like a smartphone would have seemed like something only the techie nerd guy would have, and now everybody has one.
Darrell Bock
Right.
John Dyer
So, over time, it just becomes normal to us.
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
John Dyer
And I think that's both a good thing, but also can be the very dangerous things, because it's those things that we – they become normal – that we don't evaluate, that have the most power, I think, to shape our lives.
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm. And again, I'm doing some of the contrastive stuff of the way things were vs. the way they are, 'cause I think this illustrates so much of what we're talking about. But I'll never forget this – and this pictures the way in which technology has actually linked us together globally, in a way that we haven't been linked before, giving us access to tons of material that we didn't have access to before.

I'll never forget one day I was writing, and the way our house is set up is – well, I oftentimes am writing in our living room and TV room, but if I need to look something up, my library is in a completely separate part. In fact, it's completely separated from the house; it was a garage that's been altered mostly into a library and study.

And I was writing something, and my son happened to be home. He was in college at the time, and he saw me get up, and he knew, by the way I was getting up, I was headed out to the library. And he said to me, "Dad, what are you doing?"

I said, "Oh, I need to look something up."

He says, "What do you need to look up?"

And I told him. So, he said, "Just stay here." He sat down, and he instinctively did this. He instinctively knew where to go and what to ask for. And he said, "There it is."

And I went, "Amazing." You know? It was like I was so used to doing it one way, and he was instinctively drawn to doing it the way he had always done it, because he had always been in a technological world. And the linkage – the linkages that have been created for us, and I expect this is only going to grow – this isn't going to – this isn't going away; this is only going to exponentially continue. And I'm walking into my library a lot less these days.
John Dyer
Yeah.
John Dyer
Yeah. And so, we all have to decide for ourselves where are the places where we might choose to do something the old way. When do you write a handwritten note because that just somehow feels better? When do we put on a tuxedo? That's old, but it feels better.

When do we get the horse and carriage downtown because it makes the date more special? And when do we say, "I'm going to make the meal myself rather than use the microwave or go out?" Do I go for a jog rather than use the car? All of these things that we say, "Where are there places where I might do something that I know a machine can do, but it's helpful to me?"

And then when are the other times when I use machines to speed things up so that I have a chance to do this other thing? And I think finding that balance is tricky for everybody.
Darrell Bock
And, of course, another change that comes with that, we've talked about the way in which jobs and job creation has changed and that kind of thing, but another dimension that has come in as a result of technology is the ability to work physically present at the place that you work vs. working out of the home and that kind of thing.

I'm finding a lot more people who are negotiating with their businesses about where they do their work as a result of technology.
John Dyer
Yeah. I mean there's this whole concept that to do really good work you need three or four hours of concentrated time. You have to get in the flow or something like that. That's really hard to do in today's e-mail world or in the open office environments that are so popular today.

So, figuring out how to work in the modern world, which has e-mail all day, and yet to do good, productive, creative work, ‘cause I think that you often hear these things, that creativity takes a good at least eight minutes to start up, but the average worker gets interrupted every two minutes. And so, it becomes very hard to do creative work without having some kind of separation.

So, even as much as technology can free us up, sometimes it re-enslaves us in different ways. And you just have to constantly be evaluating that and deciding where you need to change.
Darrell Bock
Now, this leads me to kind of this kind of question. I want to come back to the artificial intelligence thing and kind of explore, okay, so, where are we going? And I guess my initial experience of some form of artificial intelligence is Siri – asking Siri a question, and somehow that's getting processed in such a way that there is an answer that you know is on the –
John Dyer
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
You know, I once asked – I once asked Siri the question, "So, who was Jesus Christ?"

And she answered and said, "You ought to ask an expert that question."
Darrell Bock
And people were standing around me, laughing, 'cause – you know? So, but obviously there's a lot of amazing, in some ways, capability that exists towards intelligence. Where is that taking – where are we going with that?
John Dyer
Well, I think, again, once something's already here, we don't call it that anymore. So, most of us have been using artificial intelligence for a long time. So, Kevin Kelly likes to make this point, that whenever you fly somewhere, the pilots are only doing the first eight minutes and the last eight minutes; an AI is doing the rest of it.

And when – every time you brake your car, an AI and antilock brakes is handling the brakes better than you can. We use calculators. All those things have been AI for a long time. So, I think just like our brakes and our airplanes, we'll just see it incrementally added to more things. Like a refrigerator that can self-regulate the temperature, that's AI. A wall thermostat that can change things, to an extent that's AI.

But I think we're getting to an environment where the interactions feel a little bit more natural. I think that's what people started to think of as AI. So, my phone, I dropped it and I broke it recently, and now the screen doesn't work at all. So, all I can do is use Siri. And I do think we're getting to that place where a lot of what we do with our phones, there's just a lot of annoying tapping that you do.

So, you know, when you go travel somewhere, and at the end of the day, you've done something, and you're going, "I just want to get back to my hotel." But you've got to look up all these – you've got to look up the e-mail, what the registration –
Darrell Bock
Yeah, yeah.
John Dyer
And you just want to be able to tell a car, "Could you just take me back to the hotel?"
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
John Dyer
You just want to interact in the way that you would with a person.
Darrell Bock
Right.
John Dyer
So, I think those things are coming; they'll get better. But then the tradeoff, of course, is that some computer gets to read all your e-mail. So, there is a privacy thing in the background that you're –
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
John Dyer
– of, giving up all of your data to something so that it can do more things for you.
Darrell Bock
In the cloud.
John Dyer
Yeah, yeah.
Darrell Bock
And the cloud is back.
John Dyer
Yeah. It will come back again. But I do think that the present phones that we have are really good for us to look at as screens. They're not that good of interactivity things. I mean you're just tapping, and you're going through menus all the time. If all that could be done via speech – I think that's where our – the kinds of phones and watches that we have will change –
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm. So, they will become truly interactive devices in the full sense of that term. You know, I do find it amazing, and there's a part of me that wants to ask you how does this actually – how does some of this actually work?

I mean when I'm writing, and there's a grammar correction, for example, I'm sitting here going, "Who has done the programming to make that happen? I mean that seems to me to be an incredibly intricate exercise that – where – there's been a lot required in order for it to analyze what it is that I put there on the page that didn't exist two minutes ago – to be able analyze, "Eh, you've got – do you have a subject verb agreement here that you need?" You know?
John Dyer
Yeah, yeah. I mean I think the early forms of programming are very structured and logical, and the program can only do one thing. So, you have these almost "branching logic" is what we might call it, where if it's raining the sprinkler shouldn't come on, or if it's not raining it should come on. But it can't figure out anything else.

So, what's happening now with the AI things is they're trying to create things that are more like what we think people's minds are kind of like so that they're able to actually learn things. So, instead of now hearing about an AI that's beating someone at chess, it only knows how to do chess, you're starting to hear more things like, Goggle's sitting an AI in front of a video game that it's never seen before and learning how the game works and then getting good at beating it.

So, creating learning machines is the big thing now, where you're not actually trying to program in all the rules, but you're actually gonna hand it a bunch of good papers and say, "This is what good writing is, so that when it sees a bad paper it knows these problems." Right? So, it's going to learn by experience.
Darrell Bock
Ooh, that's amazing.
John Dyer
Yeah, yeah.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. So – and how far away is that? Do you know?
John Dyer
Well, again, it depends on – so, if it comes to grammar, that's there.
Darrell Bock
That's there?
John Dyer
Yeah. And there's some great little tools that – I've seen some fun ones, where they will try to read a text – like read Jonathan Edwards, read his whole corpus, and then try to produce new Jonathan Edwards-sounding stuff. It's hilarious. It [laughter covers speaker].

And there's a great Twitter account that – it's RNN_Bible. It's Recurrent Neural Networks, which is what some of these things are called. And so, it tries to produce new Bible verses. And they really sound like biblely things, but they're ridiculous. So, I don't know if I want to get in the numbers game of when these things will come.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, yeah.
John Dyer
But certainly some of them, I think we'll see the cars pretty quickly. My daughter's ten years away from being able to get a license, and I don't know if she will. So...
Darrell Bock
You mean the car will drive itself?
John Dyer
Yeah. So, I don't know that she'll need a license. And I would think, in 10 to 15 years, driving a car by yourself would be one of those risky, interesting things that some people do. You know? Like making their own coffee or something. But why not just let a machine do it?
Darrell Bock
Will it make traffic go away? [Laughs]
John Dyer
No, but it will let you read on the way. So, you could sit there and –
Darrell Bock
Hey, that'll work.
John Dyer
Yeah, yeah. We joked, here at the school – I did some chapels on AI that seminary students might be able to finish their degrees in a short amount of time, because –
Darrell Bock
They can use all the commuter time.
John Dyer
Yeah. So, they can finish it in five or six short years with that.
Darrell Bock
[Laughs] We shouldn't let that out on the air.
Darrell Bock
So, as someone who's thought about this, etcetera, what are some of the things you think about in relationship to technology that are coming, or things that you kind of wonder and wrestle about?
John Dyer
Yeah, again, just to camp on the AI one, 'cause we could talk about designer babies and other fun things coming down, but on that one, I think there's a set of ethical issues that are being dealt with right now, figuring out should the car crash into one person or five people, and those really hard kind of trolley-like questions. So, those are out there. And MIT, for example, has websites where they're kind of crowd-sourcing people's opinions about the ethics of the various scenarios with cars. So, whether or not they should go in and – whether or not – if it's about to hit a person, should it crash into a wall and kill the driver, or should it hit the person.
Darrell Bock
Oh, wow.
John Dyer
Really nasty questions like that and seeing how people react to those things. So, there's some amount of just seeing where we are morally as a species.
Darrell Bock
Is – are these cars going to be designed in such a way that they can't be overridden in one way or another? 'Cause –
John Dyer
So, some are. You'll see picture of, say, for example, Google's car, where they're an Alexis SUV, and those still have a steering wheel that you can take over. But they have another one that looks almost like a little VW bug, kind of, and it has no steering. So –
Darrell Bock
You just get in and go.
John Dyer
Exactly. And their idea is that by removing the steering wheel, they remove the most dangerous thing in the car.
Darrell Bock
Huh.
John Dyer
Right? Because right now, something like – I don't remember the exact stats, but I think there's somewhere around 100,000 people die a year from car wrecks, and that's down. So, in the last 30 years, with airbags and all –
Darrell Bock
Yeah, sure.
John Dyer
– antilock brakes, they're down.
Darrell Bock
I love my cameras when I'm changing lanes.
John Dyer
Yeah, exactly. So, the hope is that that would continue to drop, because we wouldn't have drivers who are distracted by the child in the back or the phone or any of those things that the computer would never get tired, would never get threatened by the big truck next to them or any of those things. So, hopefully, it will be a safer world, I think.
Darrell Bock
Well, that's interesting. 'Cause I know the phone calls that I make, where a computer answers, and all it does is frustrates me. I want to talk to a person.
John Dyer
Yeah, yeah. And the funny thing, that is – it only has discrete choices. Right?
Darrell Bock
Yeah, right, right.
John Dyer
One, two, three, four, five, six.
Darrell Bock
Exactly, yeah.
John Dyer
It can't actually interact.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
John Dyer
So, I think those are going to go way pretty soon. And the question there is this Alan Turing – you know, the Turing test is, "Can you make a machine where if you interact with it you can't tell if it's a person or not?" And we're getting pretty close in some ways. I mean you can only ask Siri one or two questions before she fails.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, yeah.
John Dyer
But you can do a lot more with some of the newer devices. And so, if you've seen movies like Her that look forward, or you watch television shoes like Black Mirror, they start to look forward in the future and go, "Man, those will be weird." Because if you think about a Roomba, who might go around and clean up your room, at the end of the day, it wants to go back to its power station. And you could just block it and just laugh at it. Right?

But if that thing is pleading with you, saying, "I'm going to die; please let me go," and the voice feels real – it will feel different. And you may have seen some of the videos from the robotics manufacture, Boston Dynamics, where people are pushing a robot and knocking them down to train them how to get their balance back – and it's funny, when I watch those, I find myself feeling something. Like it feels bad to kick the dog robot –
Darrell Bock
Right, right, right.
John Dyer
– in a way that is different than when someone crashes a car. You think – you don't really think about the car as a thing or as a you; you think of it as an it. But with some of these more humanoid-looking robots, you begin to think of it as a person. And I think that will be strange, to think about people interacting with devices that feel like people.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. And was it Her? Is that the movie –
John Dyer
Mm-hmm.
Darrell Bock
– where the person falls in love with the contraption? I mean I don't know how to describe it.
John Dyer
Yeah, they call it an operating system there. It's got a little phone he puts in his pocket with an ear bud. Yeah, it's fascinating to watch, because it's a fun joke to make, but when you see it unfold over the course of a film, it starts to seem somewhat believable.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. And the actuality is we may not be all that far away from stuff like that.
John Dyer
Yeah, exactly.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
John Dyer
So, then, what we talked about at the beginning of God creating us in his image and being creative and we have – us having this creative power to make things, what do we do when we create things in our image? Is there any ethics that we need to consider with something that can feel pain, putting it in painful scenarios? Is that a good or a bad thing? So, we have that whole area of ethics.

And then I think we have a whole other set of questions to ask about how we would interact with devices, and when we would give, say, a robot caretaker to kids or to the elderly. So, the easiest thing to do would be to say, you know, when someone's in a home, just give them a robot. I probably won't face this issue, but my kids will have to face whether or not that's a – I think if that treats humans with respect or not.
Darrell Bock
Interesting. Yeah, I'm sitting here amazed, and the thought that hits me is is that I think of the movie 2001, which was kind of one of – I think it was probably one of the original movies that raised the question of, "Can we create something that would end up turning on us?" And in which this computer obviously had all the – or many of the dimensions of a personality in such a way that was making judgments and judgments that would – and with enough capability and enough power to actually reverse its – reverse and turn on its designer.
John Dyer
Yeah. So, sometimes that's called the "singularity," when the machine gets as much intelligence as all humans and then is able to make itself better and do things that no human engineer could do. So, there's a lot of thoughts about that is that the next step in our evolutionary history and plan.

So, I think that's where we start getting into some deep theological questions about the nature of what it means to be human and where are we going in the future. So, there's a whole movement called "transhumanism" that would say that we need to use technology to augment ourselves, and that it really sounds very – their language is very religious. So, there's a savior in its technology. There's a date. It's the singularity. There's a sense of resurrection and that we get put on – our minds get put onto computers, and we become eternal and all those things.

So, I think we, as Christians, need to be able to articulate, "What does it mean to have a soul, and is there any way to talk about that outside of just Scripture? I mean Scripture tells us we have an immaterial self, but can we talk about that in the public square in a way that's useful?
Darrell Bock
Interesting. We're running out of time, but I've got a whole list of questions still. So, where is the ethics of this being discussed?
John Dyer
I think it's being discussed more by people like Elon Musk and the Google Foundation and all those things. They are actively talking about, say, artificial intelligence or –
Darrell Bock
Are these people who are working in this area who are –
John Dyer
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
– who are thinking about it? Is that basically where it's coming from?
John Dyer
Exactly, yeah, but it's mostly coming out in the technology sector and less from the Church I think. So, science fiction has been talking about this for a long time.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, yeah.
John Dyer
And we're catching up.
Darrell Bock
So, there's no theological techno ethicist out there that –
John Dyer
I mean there's a few, but I think the perspective of the technology industry is usually just that religion is going to hold us back, and why would we do that? And so, technology itself becomes the religion, where this is the thing that's taking us forward, so why would we want to talk to people that –
Darrell Bock
And almost parallel to some of the stuff that's going on in medical ethics, where the medical technology and the things that are moving ahead, we have the capability to do this, and we should just move ahead, and we shouldn't worry about the kinds of questions that it raises.

And then there are other people who are concerned about what might come. I mean how's that kind of fall in here?
John Dyer
Yeah, it does seem like these two fields are coming together very rapidly, where technology used to just about how you used it at home. But as that overlaps with, say, genetics and all those things – and my educational background is in genetics. So, the problems that we were talking about in college, 15 years ago, are now right in front of us.
Darrell Bock
Right. Now, I think you mentioned something about designer babies and that kind of thing. So, maybe that's where we ought to end.
John Dyer
Yeah, yeah. I mean right now the questions are – for example, when your baby's born, do you want to sequence his or her full DNA so that you can hopefully find out problems? The issue is that that becomes now public record. And can an insurance agency just make your rates go up because you have this one particular gene?

So, a lot of people turn it down, even when it's free, just 'cause they're worried about it. So, there's a lot of ethics with regard to insurance that are coming along. And then, of course, the abortion question of, if you find out something, should you abort early.
Darrell Bock
Right, right.
John Dyer
That's humongous right now. You know, you hear really terrible stats about kids with Down syndrome being aborted at really high rates. But the real question comes when you can actually generate something, so when you can manipulate before the baby.
Darrell Bock
So, I want a girl, and I want her to be 6'1" and a basketball star, you can get to the point where you could manipulate the genetics to –
John Dyer
Yeah. I mean the gender is pretty easy right now.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, yeah.
John Dyer
With in vitro you could pick the one that you want, but it would take sequencing all those to know where those would be. But I don't think that's that far away. Because as you're able to look at what's there with each embryo that you might implant, you're able to at least make some kinds of choices. So, it's coming.
Darrell Bock
Oh, wow. Well, on that disturbing note – [laughs]
John Dyer
Children are our future.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
John Dyer
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, well, I guess I'll be glad I'm headed to Heaven by the time all that happens. We'll leave that to someone else. Leave that to your children and your children's children.
John Dyer
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
Well, John, I thank you for coming in and talking with us about this. It's a fascinating field. Obviously most of us are very connected to technology these days and in some ways more and more. And to think about how it can impact us, but also to wrestle with the question of what might be coming is an important thing.

And I do think – I do find it fascinating – I'll end with this little story – I do find it fascinating that the situation has now come where sometimes your eight- or nine-year-old knows more about what's going on than you do, and that can be a very, very humbling feeling as the younger generation instinctively gets involved with technology and we try and catch up.
John Dyer
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
So, we thank you for being a part of The Table. We hope you enjoyed our discussion, and we hope you'll be back again with us soon.
Darrell L. Bock
Darrell L. Bock Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than 30 books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
John Dyer
John Dyer Executive Director of Communications and Educational Technology for DTS, and author of From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology. Loves coffee, technology, Star Wars, and JavaScript.
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