Q & A: Albert Mohler Discusses AI and Humanity

Q & A: Albert Mohler Discusses AI and Humanity

David Holz, the founder of artificial intelligence (AI) research lab Midjourney, stated in a social media post in January that “we should be expecting a billion humanoid robots on earth in the 2040s and a hundred billion (mostly alien) robots throughout the solar system in the 2060s.”

Tesla founder Elon Musk replied, “Probably something like that, provided the foundations of civilization are stable.” At an event in October 2022, Musk said he hoped to eventually make millions of his Optimus robot, which would carry an estimated $20,000 price tag per unit. Musk said he hoped to bring the robot to market in three to five years and that once ready it will be “an extremely capable” machine. So, how are Christians to engage a world that is increasingly being reshaped by artificial intelligence? Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, discussed the impact of AI’s proliferation from a Biblical perspective with Decision.

Q: From a Biblical worldview, what are some key distinctions between artificial intelligence and human intelligence?

A: As a Christian, I think one of the most important category distinctions we have to make is between the manipulation and analysis of data and the existence of intelligence. I just don’t accept fundamentally that those are exactly the same thing. So, I will concede that computers are faster in calculation than the human mind, and that the vast powers of what is now called artificial intelligence promises to produce computations beyond our imagination that could in many ways mimic human intelligence on many tasks. It’s very important to remember that God made human beings in His image and that human intelligence is a very different thing categorically than what we would call the intelligence of any other thing. For example, animals are highly intelligent, but their intelligence is a different category than human intelligence. 

And it’s not just a matter of analysis and computational ability, it’s moral knowledge. It’s the knowledge of God, it’s the ability to worship. And so, it’s really important that we keep our categories straight. I think the industry has every reason to classify AI as a form of intelligence, but that doesn’t mean that it’s intelligence in any classical sense. It could be able to use algorithms beyond our imagination to write text, to analyze text, to recognize patterns, and even to fulfill many functions that perhaps human beings have filled in the past. But I’m just not going to accept categorically that whatever this is, is rightly described as intelligence like we would describe human intelligence.

Q: How might the use of AI in its various forms conflict with or undermine Biblical teaching in Genesis 1:27 that humans are created in the “image of God”?

A: In the technological revolution, we’ve seen many threats arise. This one is going to, I think, be particularly threatening to human dignity. And that’s something Christians are going to have to be very watchful about. AI can manipulate information and distort it. It is allowing the pornography industry to create new forms of pornography—even manipulating an image so it looks like a person is doing something they aren’t. 

So, potentially, you could have artificial intelligence—and that covers a waterfront of technology—being used to supposedly prove you are where you never were, or you were doing something you never did. And furthermore, the surveillance state certainly is all the more threatening with artificial intelligence. And so, even on just basic issues of human dignity and, say, religious liberty, there are huge dangers out there. 

Q: What is government’s role in protecting citizens from the inherent dangers of artificial intelligence? 

A: This is going to require government action because, honestly, this threatens governments. We are at the point, and this is important to realize, that technology is so far ahead of legislation and policymaking that, quite frankly, it’s hard to know how any government right now can keep up. Virtually every technology comes with both promise and threat. And in one sense, that was true of the wheel. The wheel can take you good places, it can take you bad places, it can transport you, it can crush you. So, this is not new. This is right out of Genesis 1 and Genesis 3. 

Something to keep in mind here is that artificial intelligence is not self-generating. It did not organize itself. Human beings have done this. These are human technologies, and it’s a sobering realization of the fact that human beings are capable of creating technologies over which we lose control. Even the rightful regulation of these things comes after the problem has already exploded. So, after Genesis 3, every single government, every single police force, they’re all playing catch up with the developments of new ways of doing evil things.

Q: King Solomon declares in Ecclesiastes 1:9: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” How does this still ring true today?

A: The theological realities never change. And the basic moral realities never change. The technologies do change. And that is certainly true, undeniably. Solomon never rode a motorcar, never flew in a jet plane. However, all the deadly sins show up in a new guise, aided and abetted by technology. Lust, that’s not a new sin. That’s a constant in a fallen world. 

But let’s face it, technology is a way of routinizing and capitalizing lust. And the same thing with greed, and envy and anger. So much of what happens right now in the digital world is driven by anger. Ultimately, idolatry is what’s behind it all.

Q: How might AI represent an existential threat to humanity?

A: You’re dealing with really a handful of research institutions, universities and, most importantly, global corporations that are behind this. So we must try to understand what’s taking place as best we can and respond as Christians should respond. But quite honestly, you have to understand that the technological revolution has been largely driven by people who hold very different worldviews. Whether you’re talking about the founders of Apple or just about anything, it’s a very different world. And I think what we have here is the threat of a transhumanist society. 

For instance, the fact that this could wipe out millions and millions of jobs, I don’t believe that’s an accidental thing. We have a lot of people in global corporations who I think would much rather own machines that do the work than have to deal with human beings. And this is in direct conflict with the Biblical worldview. But it is interesting that in this case, you have an existential threat that is largely outside of even government control. And that includes every government. No government at this point has shown itself competent to come close to managing this. 

Q: How is the Genesis 11 account of the Tower of Babel a warning for the digital age?

A: In a sense, the Tower of Babel is a reminder of the fact that we have people who will attempt to use any technology to displace the humility that comes with being human. The Tower of Babel was an attempt to deny the structures of creation that God had put in place and to declare that we are the center of the universe. There’s a sense in which even the very concept of artificial intelligence looks a bit narcissistic for human beings. 

But we don’t discount the ability of technology to bring real improvements in human life and existence. I think every one of us should be thankful for the development of the CAT scan and modern anesthesia. One of the promising things about artificial intelligence is that it might be used to help detect tumors long before a human agent might be able to make that recognition. That’s one of the things that technology might be able to do in terms of perception and analysis and pattern detection. 

But at the same time, in a secular age, humans want some form of technological salvation. And that’s the one thing that can’t possibly happen. Technology can’t save us.  ©2024 BGEA

Interviewed by Lee Weeks, assistant editor, Decision.

The Scripture quotation is taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  

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