Christian group unveils manifesto


WASHINGTON — No matter how good the technology gets, God-made humans will always have greater value than man-made devices, a group of Christian leaders declared last week.

Meeting in Washington, D.C., they unveiled a 12-point manifesto titled “Artificial Intelligence: An Evangelical Statement of Principles.”

It stresses that people are made in the image of God and declares that technology should never “be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.”

Nor should it be used in “the pursuit of sexual pleasure,” the document states.

“AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage,” it states.

The statement also cautions about artificial intelligence’s use in wartime, stating that “any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ human oversight or review. … When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.”

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention convened Thursday’s gathering.

More than 60 evangelical leaders have added their names to the statement, including the Rev. Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church of Northwest Arkansas and president-elect of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, and Mark Galli, editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, also added their names.

The Rev. Casey Hough, pastor of Camden’s First Baptist Church, added his name and served on the committee that helped draft the document.

The five-page statement of principles, is posted at erlc.com/ai.

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Artificial intelligence may be ushering in one of those “pivotal, paradigm-shifting moments of history that define civilization,” said Andrew T. Walker, the commission’s director of research and senior fellow in Christian ethics.

Working together, the “cross-disciplinary group of theologians, medical doctors, lawyers, ethicists, policy experts and tech experts” have crafted “a statement that we believe will be an important signpost for future evangelical reflection around technology and artificial intelligence,” he added.

Hough, who worked in information technology before entering the ministry, said technology can be a force for good if harnessed properly and utilized ethically.

“We think AI can be very beneficial. We just recognize it also has to be governed by principles that don’t devalue human beings,” he said.

The world is on the cusp of extraordinary change, the evangelicals acknowledged.

“We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities,” the statement declares.

Future technological advances, the statement says, “will allow us to achieve unprecedented possibilities.”

If accompanied by “wisdom and care,” technology’s benefits can be enjoyed and its risks can be minimized, it adds.

Work will remain essential, no matter what advances lie ahead.

“Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities,” the statement declares.

Technology will never have the power to eradicate death and disease, but it can improve health care and alleviate suffering, the document adds.

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The document rejects the possibility of a dystopian future, with machines as masters and humans as slaves; no Terminator-type Doomsday awaits us.

“While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers,” the statement declares.

While dismissing the possibility of a robot apocalypse, the drafters and signers expressed concerns about surrendering life-and-death decisions to algorithms.

Evangelicals are the latest group to voice concerns about the use of artificial intelligence in military operations.

Scientists, human rights activists and tech leaders have also raised the alarm.

Last month, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a similar warning, declaring that “machines with the power and discretion to take lives without human involvement are politically unacceptable, morally repugnant and should be prohibited by international law.”

The statement of principles released Thursday says artificial intelligence can increase safety and security, but warned against using it to “suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.”

Russell Moore, the commission’s president, said it’s important for evangelicals to grapple now with the moral ramifications of artificial intelligence.

Sweeping and, at times, disruptive changes are coming, he said in an interview after the event.

“I just taught my sons to drive a couple of years ago. And I realized, they probably won’t do this with their own children,” he said.

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By the time he has grandchildren who are old enough to drive, “the technology will probably have rendered … the act of learning to drive a car irrelevant,” Moore said.

That’s going to mean a lot of upheaval for truckers and cabdrivers and delivery people, he noted.

“When all those things are gone immediately, we have to be ready for the social and spiritual costs that come along with that. I don’t think we’re giving enough attention to that,” he said.

SundayMonday on 04/14/2019



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