Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

The ethics of generative AI


WORLD Radio - The ethics of generative AI

Tech titans call for a pause in developing more powerful artificial intelligence tools

iStock Photo

PAUL BUTLER, HOST: It’s Thursday the 6th of April, 2023.

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

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown.

First up on The World and Everything in It, the ethics of Artificial Intelligence—or simply “A-I.”

Last week, an image of Pope Francis wearing a puffy white winter coat went viral on Twitter. It soon came out that the image was not an actual photograph but the product of an AI image generator called Midjourney.

BUTLER: Now, the puffer coat Pope is a fairly benign image, but it raises concerns about what could happen if the same technology was used for malicious purposes.

So last week, a group of tech titans, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, signed an open letter by the Future of Life Institute. The letter now has over 10 thousand public signatures, and it asks that the industry take a six-month break from developing the next generation of GPT technology in order to establish some much needed ethical standards and policies.

BROWN: Well, joining us now is Jason Thacker. He’s the Chair of Research in Technology Ethics at The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Jason, good morning.

JASON THACKER, GUEST: Hey, thank you for having me today.

BROWN: Well, Jason, can you explain what generative AI is and why so many people are concerned about it?

THACKER: Yeah, it's kind of funny, especially with late last year with the release of ChatGPT, there was kind of a storm and kind of a fury surrounding artificial intelligence. This is a technology that we've been using for a very long time. What kind of happened with Open AI in this release was kind of the popularizing of what's long been possible in the field and generative AI specifically, in the idea of being able to create or to generate, whether it's text or images, or even video content, is something that's very novel in some ways, but also a lot of the principles and a lot of the ideas have long been around. But the idea is that we have non-biological intelligence, we have computers making really complex decisions. And I think specifically with ChatGPT, it's challenging, because we see these ideas of these machines creating things that once we, you know, we exclusively thought was reserved for humanity in terms of writing and creativity, and art and video production. And now we're seeing machines do that. And so I think that releases a little bit of panic, and a little bit of kind of anxiety inducing surrounding this type of technology. But the reality is, is that artificial intelligence has been around for a while, and we all use it every single day, whether we realize it or not.

BROWN: In your 2020 book The Age of AI: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity, you said that in order to arrive at an answer for how we can live with artificial intelligence we need to start with Scripture, and especially with what Scripture says about what it means to be human. Can you explain that?

THACKER: Yeah. And I think that's actually the central question really of all ethical and social issues that we deal with today, but specifically with technology issues, because these technologies are doing things as we said before, were once reserved for human beings alone. It seemed that human beings in this sense were the pinnacle of creation, we had the intelligence, we had the creative abilities. And now we have machines that I believe are mimicking and imitating that type of ability. I don't think they're actually intelligent in that sense. But they are doing things that kind of shock the system a little bit. We start to realize, like, hey, artificial intelligence isn't a far off kind of future phenomenon. But it's something that's affecting our lives right now. And I think chat GPT and other types of artificial intelligence that are causing us to ask questions, you know, really central questions that really aren't that new. I like to say that technology, specifically AI, doesn't cause us to ask new questions of humanity, per se, but to ask the age old questions in light of some new opportunities. And what I mean by that is, we have long asked from the very beginning of civilization questions like what does it mean to be human? And we've had various answers and ideas of that throughout history. Today, we're facing some of those challenges in unique ways as we see machines that are doing things that were once reserved for human beings. And that's challenging us a little bit to rediscover. And I think as Christians, we have a specific understanding of how God created us in His image and what that means, and that we're wholly unique despite our abilities, despite our creativity, despite our intelligence, that God has created us uniquely in the cosmos, and he calls us to live in a particular way and to wield these tools so that we could love God and to love our neighbors as our self.

BROWN: Last question. Regardless of what happens with the open letter’s proposal, there’s a good chance that these AI generated images will continue to pop up online and generate confusion about what’s really going on in the world. So I’d like to know, what advice would you give listeners who see something online that they aren’t sure is real, but are being told by friends and family that it is? Wttttttttthat would you say?

THACKER: Yeah, and one of the things about this open letter that I appreciate is that it's raising concern. I'm not sure that a lot of things are going to stop or halt or be paused by any means. And one of the things about this letter that listeners need to be aware of is that it's calling for a six month moratorium, or pause on these things, really. We've been long working on AI principles at the government level, at the industry level, even from the ethics level in terms of the things I've been doing for the last few years. This isn't all that new, and six months isn't going to change that much. But one of the things that we are facing is the polar proliferation of fake news and conspiracy theories and misinformation and disinformation. Now, while that can feel very politically charged, we have to realize that we live in a time where the things we see online may not be true. We know that in terms of Wikipedia, we can go to say that I'm an NBA superstar for at least five minutes before it gets changed. But reality is, is that the internet is manipulating and shifting and shaping our understanding of truth. Generative AI takes it to the next level, not only do we have the distribution channels, through social media, and through mass media today, we also have the ability to create it at a mass scale. And so that's one of the things that I think the principle this, this letter actually calls out correctly is that there's a proliferation of this kind of information now, and we have the ability to create it at scale. So one of the big things and I write about this in my last book, Following Jesus in a Digital Age, one of the biggest things we can do is to slow down and to ask the hard questions, not just assuming the things we see online are true, to slow down to read things before we post it before we share it with our friends and family and those that follow us online and to be a people of truth. That's what Christians are, we're people of the way, the truth, and the life we follow Jesus in every single aspect. So we have to slow down and recognize that technology is shaping and forming us as people. And one of the ways that we see that right before us is the rise of generative AI and a lot of the challenges surrounding that. But the Christian ethic is more than robust and sufficient enough to help us to navigate any of the challenges we face, especially with generative AI.

BROWN: Slow down, ask the right questions, and be people of the truth, yes. Jason Thacker is the Chair of Research in Technology Ethics at The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Thanks for being with us, Jason.

THACKER: Yeah, thank you for having me.

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.


Please wait while we load the latest comments...