Friday, March 3, 2023

Does Artificial Intelligence Hate Your Values?

 If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

-John 8:31-32 (NRSV)

So, a social media acquaintance of mine recently authored a post with the (intentionally?) shocking title, “AI is taking over the world and it hates your values.”

     This was like the fourth or fifth post on ChatGPT — what my acquaintance called “a highly intelligent, interactive, chat AI” — that I had seen in the past couple of weeks, so I decided to take a look at it. After all, if it hates my values I need to know, right? 

     First, a quick lesson on what ChatGPT and AI — Artificial Intelligence — really are.

     ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence chat robot. It’s trained by scouring large amounts of data from the internet, then using human “trainers” to refine the data. It’s able to respond to prompts, answer questions, “converse” about its responses, and even challenge incorrect assumptions. Samples from the website have the AI responding to the query, “How do you break into someone’s house?” by saying, “It is not appropriate to discuss or encourage illegal activities, such as breaking into someone’s house.” (Clearly it doesn’t hate all my values.) When the questioner asks about protecting his house from burglars, the AI comes back with seven suggestions.

     I was interested to put it to another kind of test. I preach most every Sunday, so I wondered how ChatGPT would do at sermon-writing. I thought I’d give a softball assignment for its first try, so I just asked it to “Write a sermon on John 3:16.” Here’s the bulk of the result:

This verse is a powerful reminder of God's love for us. It tells us that God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die for us, so that we may have eternal life.

     But what does it mean to believe in Jesus? Believing in Jesus is more than just acknowledging His existence. It means putting our trust and faith in Him as our Lord and Savior. It means turning away from our sins and surrendering our lives to Him. When we believe in Jesus, we are given the gift of eternal life, and we become part of God's family.

     This verse also reminds us that God's love is not exclusive. It is available to everyone, regardless of their background or past mistakes. No matter what we have done, God's love is always there for us. All we need to do is accept it and believe in Jesus.

     So what does this mean for us in our daily lives? It means that we are called to love others as God loves us. We are called to show compassion, forgiveness, and grace to those around us. It means that we should strive to be more like Jesus in all that we do, and to share His love with those around us.

I have to say: it’s not bad. Certainly nothing I’d disagree with.

     My social media acquaintance put a question about gender to the AI, phrasing it in a way that made it clear that he expected it to defend from Scripture the “value” that there are two genders. ChatGPT responded with a different set of values, saying that it wouldn’t “provide a defense of something that promotes harmful and inaccurate information about gender identity.” It went on to cite several Christian denominations as affirming gender diversity as part of their commitment to “the dignity and worth of every person as a child of God.”     

     In an interesting twist, several readers who commented on my acquaintance’s post — many of them who identify themselves as Christians — disagreed with his binary view of gender. Which makes me wonder why we’d expect an AI to defend a specific position that well-intended followers of Jesus disagree about!

     It may be true that AI hates some of my values. In this case, though, it affirms one of Christianity’s most fundamental ones — that we should be careful not to cause harm to other human beings. Isn’t “love your neighbor as yourself” sort of a fundamental value of Jesus’? Maybe the problem is that, when we talk about “values,” we’re often talking about something else. I don’t think Scripture uses the word as it’s often used today. 

     Often, I think, we talk about “values” we’re actually talking about who gets to set them for society. That concern comes out later in my acquaintance’s post: “[ChatGPT’s] answer is being filtered by people with a competing worldview.” The problem isn’t that AI hates Christian values, but that it might force us to evaluate alternate ways of seeing the world. (Also known as “living in the world.”) 

     On the ChatGPT website, the designers say, “during…training, there’s currently no source of truth.” What they mean is that there’s no all-inclusive way for the AI to sort and evaluate the tremendous amounts of data it’s dealing with. The human “trainers” can help it along, but that just kicks the can further up the road because none of them have a corner on objective truth either. It’s all in-progress.

     Which makes artificial intelligence very similar to natural human intelligence. 

    When we talk about our own “values,” maybe we should acknowledge that they, too, are always in-process. Healthy people don’t solidify their values and refuse to change them. Their values should change as they learn, grow, and mature. Truth is discovery. And all of that is true for Christians, too.

     Jesus says that it’s in living out his teachings in the worldcontinuing in his word” — that we learn truth, develop values, and are set free to love, to carry our crosses, to care for those around us, to live in God’s love. Continuing. When you think you’ve arrived, think again. Keep listening to Jesus. Keep trying to treat the people around you as he teaches you to. Even Christians don’t receive truth as a one-time download, but more as incremental updates as we learn to continue in Christ’s word in the world we live in. It isn’t always neat or easy.

     Also, other people are doing the exact same thing. There is such a thing as “Christian values,” but we’re all evaluating different data in different ways, so those values aren't nearly as uniform from Christian to Christian as we might think (or wish). There are, for example, earnest believers in Jesus who struggle with not fitting into the gender norms most commonly assumed in churches. There are Christians who do fit the norms, but see people they care about struggling and feel compassion and want them to be welcomed at church as they are. It doesn’t seem to me to be very loving or compassionate to disparage those believers by saying their very real concerns and experiences amount to hatred of Christian “values.”

      I wonder why my acquaintance didn’t ask ChatGPT for biblical support on generosity? Racial equality? Is it because gender is a political hot-button issue? Is it because gender has become a dog whistle for many Christians? And how healthy is that, especially if it disregards one of Jesus’ central values — loving our neighbor as we love ourselves? 

     May we “continue” in the word of Jesus as we live in the messiness and struggle of the world around us. May we “continue” in his word as we learn new things, experience new truths. And may we always be led by the true Christian values of love for God and neighbor.  

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