AI Musings and Silent Oracles

I apologize upfront, I’m not even attempting to bring any wisdom this week.  But the Large Language Models (LLMs/ChatGPT) and the machine learning (ML/the robots) have been on my mind.  The next generation of these things is apparently around the corner and each generation gets better.  And with each generation that gets better, anxiety and fear can also rise.  I expect any day the “Butlerian Jihad” (Dune fans will know) will emerge.  We have two paths of thought by our Sci-Fi imagineers on this.  One is the Terminator and the other is C3PO.   The new technology is always Frankenstein, here to kill us or make us obsolete.  The opposite picture – usually pushed by the Dr. Frankensteins – is that the new technology is a harmless loveable nothing who is only here to make our lives better. Eventually we come to some type of synthesis. We recognize that the monster is not really a monster.  That yes, the new technology has some good uses.  But, that we remain the real monsters, and if there is some way to abuse the new technology, we will find it.  

But if I was musing that “this time is different” it would go something like this.  For most of history, especially Christian history, our anthropology – what we think about ourselves – has had a three-fold division: mind, body and soul.  The seat of the mind in is the head.  The seat of the body is the gut.  And the seat of the soul in the heart. The mind thinks, the body feels, the soul wills. Plato would picture this as a chariot – the technology of the day.  The mind and the body are the horses and the spirit is the charioteer.  Within Christian thought we say that “we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16).”  The Holy Spirit or the renewed sprit dwells within us (Psalm 51). And we await the renewed body, the resurrection body.  Until the resurrection we dwell in this tent which also contains sin.  The Christian struggle is that the renewed mind and spirit struggle against that flesh. Both from fear of death (Hebrew 2:15) and from carnal desire.  

Technology as we are thinking here really has its beginning with Descartes. When he said “I think, therefore I am” he reduced that Spirit to the mind.  Philosophers have been arguing the mind-body problem ever since. But the practical effect is that Western man pursuing the head alone developed great mastery over the material. This was the movie Oppenheimer’s theme. Should we have made the atomic bomb?  The fact that the mind said it was possible made it necessary to bring it into reality.  That was the smile on Oppy’s face seeing the explosion. He had made it, extending the realm of the mind over the material. He never really submitted the question to the will, the Spirit – Is this a good thing?  The AI we see being developed is almost the perfect reduction of this Western man.  It is all mind.  It has no spirit, neither does it have any permanent flesh.  

My guess is that we will find that our spirit and flesh will provide plenty for our new technology tools. If we find Terminators, it is because we have willed Terminators. But we will also have plenty of Star Wars droids.  Plenty of personality, much smarter than we are in some ways, but really extension of our own will.  If I give voice to the fear, it is that something else provides the spirit to the AI mind.  “And [the 2nd beast] was allowed to give breath to the image of the [first] beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. (Revelation 13:15).”  Toward the end of the apostolic era Plutarch – a Roman historian – pens a letter on the strange “Obsolescence of the Oracles”.  The Oracles fell silent one by one.  They no longer spoke.  Now of course Paul would say that they were all demons. And Christ has bound the strong man (Mark 3:27).  But that picture of the beasts imagines a time when the oracles are no longer silent.  Do we have a very different oracle coming into the world slouching toward Bethlehem as the poet wrote?  Time to put such visions away. Lord have mercy. Amen. 

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