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The ethics of ABBAtars

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WORLD Radio - The ethics of ABBAtars

How should humans respond to AI made in our image?


Abba, from left, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Agnetha Foltskog, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus perform at United Nations General Assembly, in New York, during taping of NBC-TV Special, "The Music for UNICEF concert" on Jan. 9, 1979 Associated Press Photo/Ron Frehm

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Thursday the 8th of September, 2022.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.

PAUL BUTLER, HOST: And I’m Paul Butler.

First up on The World and Everything in It. The Swedish superband ABBA broke up in 1982. Until recently, they have resisted getting together. This summer, the four members went back on stage virtually in London as ABBAtars—computer generated images onstage.

BROWN: The late performers Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, and Freddie Mercury have all appeared on stage using artificial intelligence or AI. The advancing technology raises the question: How should humans—made in God’s image—respond to computer graphics made in our image? WORLD’s Amy Lewis reports.

AMY LEWIS, REPORTER: Australian Anicka Palmer finally realized her childhood dream this summer. She flew to London to see ABBA’s Agnetha, Björn, Benny, and Anni-Frid sing together on stage.

MUSIC: [Dancing Queen]

PALMER: I think I probably cried for the first four or five songs in that happy tears, like, I can't believe I'm actually seeing ABBA. And in my head, I was so conscious of “This is a computer program. This isn't real.” But everything else in my body responded in the way that it was real.

ABBA’s former members spent more than a month recording for the concert. They wore “motion capture suits” and more than 160 cameras recorded their moves and expressions. For the London concert, artificial intelligence used 20-something body-doubles to replace their 70-year-old bodies. The virtual ABBA members look and move like they did in 1977.

Palmer flew from Melbourne, Australia, to England to see the concert.

PALMER: They had a few backup singers, and they had a live band. And that kind of also added, I guess, to the sensation that this was a real live concert. And it was so real, you would see like the veins in their hands as they were holding the microphone. It was that thrill of seeing what I thought was the real live people on the stage that that was most incredible, I think, to me.

She saw the virtual ABBA one night and Elton John the next. Was he computer generated?

PALMER: No, he was definitely real, different concert experiences. But, look, I think if the technology is there, we need to embrace it. But we always need to be sensible and responsible in the use of any forms of technology, including holograms. I might be skeptical if it was used in an irresponsible manner with technology being used to recreate people that have passed saying or doing things that perhaps wasn’t consistent with the work that they did when they were alive…

Lois Montgomery is a cybersecurity professional based in Nashville, Tennessee. She says it’s important to understand what is actually happening with artificial intelligence.

LOIS MONTGOMERY: Christians tend to have this dichotomous view of technology that it’s either, you know, it's either very good, or very evil. But all in all, technology doesn't have a soul. It can't commit acts unless people are programming it to. So even when we talk about AI, the intelligence is not that intelligent.

Montgomery’s husband Matthew is a church musician and performer. He says transparency about the use of AI in concerts could become an issue.

MATTHEW MONTGOMERY: I think it's going to get a little bit more grey area in 20 years, or maybe even sooner than that, when it actually is indistinguishable from actually like, is the person there or not? And someone that's doing huge stadium tours decides let's just do a hologram and not tell anybody. I think that it could introduce some ethical questions down the line.

One of the central questions with AI and its ability to depict humans is what makes a human human? Jason Thacker leads the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission Research Institute. He’s the author of The Age of AI and Following Jesus in a Digital Age.

THACKER: I think it all comes down to what does it mean to be made in the image of God? This is the central question that our society is longing for an answer for.

The technology offers Christians opportunities to highlight the difference between what computers can do and who people are. Thacker says the worldview behind the technology often has a different starting point than the Bible.

THACKER: It's a very utilitarian type of mindset in terms of ethics, meaning your value, your worth is based on your usefulness to others, to society. You don't have inherent dignity, you don't have inherent value, and even then, you really don't even have inherent rights, per se.

That’s different from what the Bible says about us. We’re more than just rational beings.

THACKER: We're created in the image of God. That's what, that's what the Bible tells us. That's what it tells us about all of humanity, not just believers, that we’re created in the very image of God and we’re created distinct, and we’re created unique. So we're looking to God to define our value, our worth, our dignity, and our purpose and design.

ABBAtars aren’t human, and they’re not pretending to be. Anicka Palmer knew what she was going to see. But what about some of the other advances?

THACKER: …where you're talking about AI creators and AI art and AI music and what do we do now? And it's like, well, if you step back and kind of cut through some of your presuppositions about what it means to be human, a lot of these things start to open up and are a lot clearer, especially of what a Christian approach is, because we can say, that's not a human being. That's not a person. That's not an image bearer, by any means. There's a distinction there. And these tools can be utilized to glorify God.

MUSIC: [Thank you for the Music]

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Amy Lewis.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Thursday the 8th of September, 2022.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.

PAUL BUTLER, HOST: And I’m Paul Butler.

First up on The World and Everything in It. The Swedish superband ABBA broke up in 1982. Until recently, they have resisted getting together. This summer, the four members went back on stage virtually in London as ABBAtars—computer generated images onstage.

BROWN: The late performers Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, and Freddie Mercury have all appeared on stage using artificial intelligence or AI. The advancing technology raises the question: How should humans—made in God’s image—respond to computer graphics made in our image? WORLD’s Amy Lewis reports.

AMY LEWIS, REPORTER: Australian Anicka Palmer finally realized her childhood dream this summer. She flew to London to see ABBA’s Agnetha, Björn, Benny, and Anni-Frid sing together on stage.

MUSIC: [Dancing Queen]

PALMER: I think I probably cried for the first four or five songs in that happy tears, like, I can't believe I'm actually seeing ABBA. And in my head, I was so conscious of “This is a computer program. This isn't real.” But everything else in my body responded in the way that it was real.

ABBA’s former members spent more than a month recording for the concert. They wore “motion capture suits” and more than 160 cameras recorded their moves and expressions. For the London concert, artificial intelligence used 20-something body-doubles to replace their 70-year-old bodies. The virtual ABBA members look and move like they did in 1977.

Palmer flew from Melbourne, Australia, to England to see the concert.

PALMER: They had a few backup singers, and they had a live band. And that kind of also added, I guess, to the sensation that this was a real live concert. And it was so real, you would see like the veins in their hands as they were holding the microphone. It was that thrill of seeing what I thought was the real live people on the stage that that was most incredible, I think, to me.

She saw the virtual ABBA one night and Elton John the next. Was he computer generated?

PALMER: No, he was definitely real, different concert experiences. But, look, I think if the technology is there, we need to embrace it. But we always need to be sensible and responsible in the use of any forms of technology, including holograms. I might be skeptical if it was used in an irresponsible manner with technology being used to recreate people that have passed saying or doing things that perhaps wasn’t consistent with the work that they did when they were alive…

Lois Montgomery is a cybersecurity professional based in Nashville, Tennessee. She says it’s important to understand what is actually happening with artificial intelligence.

LOIS MONTGOMERY: Christians tend to have this dichotomous view of technology that it’s either, you know, it's either very good, or very evil. But all in all, technology doesn't have a soul. It can't commit acts unless people are programming it to. So even when we talk about AI, the intelligence is not that intelligent.

Montgomery’s husband Matthew is a church musician and performer. He says transparency about the use of AI in concerts could become an issue.

MATTHEW MONTGOMERY: I think it's going to get a little bit more grey area in 20 years, or maybe even sooner than that, when it actually is indistinguishable from actually like, is the person there or not? And someone that's doing huge stadium tours decides let's just do a hologram and not tell anybody. I think that it could introduce some ethical questions down the line.

One of the central questions with AI and its ability to depict humans is what makes a human human? Jason Thacker leads the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission Research Institute. He’s the author of The Age of AI and Following Jesus in a Digital Age.

THACKER: I think it all comes down to what does it mean to be made in the image of God? This is the central question that our society is longing for an answer for.

The technology offers Christians opportunities to highlight the difference between what computers can do and who people are. Thacker says the worldview behind the technology often has a different starting point than the Bible.

THACKER: It's a very utilitarian type of mindset in terms of ethics, meaning your value, your worth is based on your usefulness to others, to society. You don't have inherent dignity, you don't have inherent value, and even then, you really don't even have inherent rights, per se.

That’s different from what the Bible says about us. We’re more than just rational beings.

THACKER: We're created in the image of God. That's what, that's what the Bible tells us. That's what it tells us about all of humanity, not just believers, that we’re created in the very image of God and we’re created distinct, and we’re created unique. So we're looking to God to define our value, our worth, our dignity, and our purpose and design.

ABBAtars aren’t human, and they’re not pretending to be. Anicka Palmer knew what she was going to see. But what about some of the other advances?

THACKER: …where you're talking about AI creators and AI art and AI music and what do we do now? And it's like, well, if you step back and kind of cut through some of your presuppositions about what it means to be human, a lot of these things start to open up and are a lot clearer, especially of what a Christian approach is, because we can say, that's not a human being. That's not a person. That's not an image bearer, by any means. There's a distinction there. And these tools can be utilized to glorify God.

MUSIC: [Thank you for the Music]

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Amy Lewis.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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