The subject of artificial intelligence and data ethics is one of the great questions of the age, that technologies have now reached a point where we’re seeing the big tech companies encroaching more and more on different aspects of human life and are beginning to influence and shape the very essence of what it means to be human.
The Christian Church has been reflecting on what it means to be human for more than 2,000 years, and I think we have something very very important to bring to this new conversation about human flourishing in an age of technology. I know it’s always right to speak in this chamber with some fear and trepidation, but I think never more so than today, not only because of the expertise and passionate conviction in this chamber but also the jeopardy in which we find ourselves as a nation and of Parliament.
I’m one of the bishops who sit in the House of Lords in the United Kingdom and the chance came to be involved in a House of Lords Select Committee inquiry into artificial intelligence. The Templeton World Charity Foundation grants support research on artificial intelligence and data ethics and science-related questions There are lots of different definitions of artificial intelligence, but I find the definition of “broad” and “narrow” helpful. – Alexa how many feet in a mile? – One mile he equals 5,280 feet. “Broad” is general artificial intelligence at the rise of conscious machines. – Affirmative, Dave. I read you.
Open the pod bay doors, HAL. – And I suppose what kept me awake at night was the idea of intelligent machines which would take over the world, the stuff of science fiction, but what then began to keep me awake at night and intrigue me was the rise of narrow artificial intelligence, the way AI is being used now in all kinds of ways, sometimes regulated, sometimes not very well regulated, and that seems to me to present a clear and present danger to the flourishing of human life.
Human flourishing for me means to have conditions in which human beings live creatively and purposefully and well, form good relationships founded on principles of justice and fairness and equity, able to work and get a return for their living and practice freedom of faith. Obviously, as a Christian human, flourishing is also about engagement with God and with Christ.
The most obvious and exciting possibilities are in the areas of health and medicine. is now producing positive benefits already in the areas of reading scans, and that I think is going to revolutionize a cancer diagnosis in the coming years. AI can improve decision-making with good safeguards in areas like banking and HR. I think I can remove drudgery from human work. These are profoundly helpful tools for the future of humanity, but they must remain tools that humans govern and control and direct rather than being in the hands of either totalitarian governments or huge companies.
I think there’s a need to balance ethics and innovation. The idea is not to inhibit innovation in any way but to have an innovation that benefits people. I think one very very big issue is the future of work and what the future of work is going to be, both with increased automation and the fact that the economic effects of increased automation going to fall very unevenly across the population,
Deployed in Supporting
so a great many call center jobs and warehousing distribution jobs will be automated, so the economic questions are significant: how the workforce is retrained and other economic opportunities created is going to be critical. The question when I and Big Data are deployed in supporting through algorithms: what are the things that make those decisions then fairer than they would if they were made as simply in human decision-making processes.
The datasets themselves have got to be as accurate and fair as possible. There is an element to our humanity, I would argue, which is lost if decisions about people’s lives are only missed by machines and algorithms, so establishing that human-machine-partnership is, I think, really critical. There’s always a human face and voice to explain why this decision has been made even though an algorithm and data may have played a part. Over the last 15 or20 years, decisions have increasingly been made by the developers of the technology.
Privacy concerns are very critical: manipulation of people through online targeting, how big tech has begun to accumulate data and use it needs a great deal more transparency and scrutiny, and also the effect of that on actual behavior, not least voting patterns and the way that undercuts our democracy. People’s whole lives can be manipulated and shaped because of what people understand and know about us.
We need to be alert as a society to these developments which are eroding individual rights and privacies which are a very precious part of our lives. I think we’re finding some practical, good steps forward to regulate and govern the use of these technologies properly, which will encourage their use but which will also mitigate their harms.
I don’t think there’s a blueprint yet but some elements are very important. One common feature is always the engagement of the wider public and civil society because all of these technologies are the potential of massive impact, so keeping a public, consumer citizen-facing awareness is critical. A second is to have some representation from science and technology because obviously, that’s essential to know what is possible and what isn’t, and what the key choices are.
And the third would be our tapping into the broader and deeper ethical tradition from philosophy, from the faith communities, the ethical resources which underpin our democratic institutions, ensuring that the ethical regulation is not simply a set of fig leaves. There has never been a greater need for a renewal of what it means to be human and for the irrigation of the desert, which flows from a fresh vision. I think the church has a really important role as a voice for a distinctive ethical tradition,
which has shaped much of the way the world is, and it is those traditions about faith and justice and love and human dignity which I think need to be brought by the church into the debate around artificial intelligence. Faith-based leaders can bring a broader perspective on the whole of humanity. It’s not that the scientists may not have that, but it wouldn’t be something that they would necessarily bring. The Christian Church is one of the voices that need to be at the table and engaged in these debates because the issues at stake are so enormous.
I think being human in the Machine Age is about keeping our interactions with machines at the level of what is useful but proportionate to those other key relationships. We are called to be relational beings with God and other people and with ourselves, and I don’t think machines can ever be a substitute for that.
And one of the byproducts of studying artificial intelligence is even deeper awe and respect for human beings conscience beings in multiple intelligences: emotional, intellectual, and musical, and artistic. I don’t think we’re anywhere near conscious machines or something which could be described as parallel to human intelligence, but what the study of AI does for me, helps me ponder that mystery with even more awe and wonder, and the difficulty of us creating anything which is approaching ourselves is for me a sign has the image of God in humanity.