“This isn’t going to stop. … AI won. Humans lost.”
This isn’t a quote from “The Matrix,” “The Terminator” or “Ex Machina,” three of the many films made to warn us that reckless reliance on artificial intelligence will result in robot overlords.
It’s Jason Allen’s response to claims that he cheated by using an AI engine to create a digital painting that won first prize in an art contest. “This isn’t going to stop,” he said. “Art is dead, dude. It’s over. AI won. Humans lost.”
How odd is it that he boasts that a human creation has rendered humans obsolete in the creative faculties that make us unique? It’s as if he forgot he is in the latter category.
True, increasingly AI takes on tedious tasks, freeing us for more creativity. Soon it may even empower the genius of those once hindered by learning or physical challenges. I recently sat on a plane next to a multinational tech company employee. “We have no idea where AI might take us, for good or for ill,” she said.
Years ago, we didn’t know where social media algorithms would take us. Rampant polarization, misinformation, anger and anxiety overtake the myriad benefits of social media. Because AI is orders of magnitude more powerful and disruptive than social media, perhaps we should pause before gorging on the fruit of AI’s tree.
Although unrestrained reliance on AI will not lead to humanity’s enslavement to machines, the more realistic danger is desensitization toward that which makes us intrinsically valuable humans.
MidJourney, the AI that generated Mr. Allen’s prize-winning image, doesn’t create art. AI just scrapes bits of internet-available images made by human artists and cobbles them together based on a written prompt. But artists create from inspiration and insight — from life experiences, a sunset, or the way raindrops on a window cast shadows on a child’s face.
As a Christian, I believe that the image of God endowed to each human best explains this unique faculty for inspired creativity. We are not mere biochemical machines. AI’s increased sophistication will never lead to artificial inspiration and wonder. It might mimic such things but will remain a simulacrum at best.
To explore this, I asked the headline-making AI engine, ChatGPT, to write several essays on the dangers of relying on AI to write essays. Yes — how meta of me.
ChatGPT obeyed the compositional rules we learned in high school. And its essays were sterile — bereft of prose, punch or personality.
Yet ironically, every essay warned that unrestrained reliance on AI for creative writing might homogenize our product, robbing us of individually and culturally diverse perspectives. Why? Because AI samples ideas expressed on the internet, funnels them through an algorithm, and spits out a calculated result.
Heavy reliance on AI would populate the internet with AI-generated material. Over time, AI will start sampling itself. Every writer knows the adage “write what you know,” meaning write about your experience. Falling prey to AI’s seductive ability to write for us will deprive us of the opportunity to express lived experiences because AI doesn’t have experiences.
Fascinating. Within ChatGPT’s lifeless and formulaic essays nested the point that reliance on AI risks lifeless and formulaic results.
Because our creative spark is part of what it means to be made in God’s image, it is precious beyond measure and must be protected. Dependence on AI may deprive us of the delight of accomplishment and discovery.
A biblical proverb expresses that God has concealed things in this universe so that we might delight in unlocking those mysteries (Proverbs 25:2). Disciplined effort to unlock them magnifies the delight in discovering them. One who has hiked to Pike’s Peak summit will describe the view differently than someone who just drove to the top.
Despite Mr. Allen’s odd boast about that which may replace us, he made an astute observation: “The ethics isn’t in the technology. It’s in the people.”
In Eden, the ethics weren’t in the fruit of the forbidden tree, but in Adam’s and Eve’s reason for eating it, which was elevation to godhood. They pursued godhood at the risk of their humanity. Today, we marvel at our godlike creation of AI while risking the same peril.
Interestingly, atheist thinker Yuval Harari asks, “Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?” We should consider that question as we garden our algorithmic Eden.
Crosses that hang around our necks or adorn our churches remind us that our transcendent humanness is so valuable that it warranted God paying an infinite price to restore it after Eden’s disaster. Perhaps reflecting on that truth can temper our eagerness to dehumanize and replace ourselves as we contemplate the fruit of the AI tree.
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