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WASHINGTON -- No matter how good the technology gets, God-made humans will always have greater value than man-made devices, a group of Christian leaders declared last week.

Meeting in Washington, D.C., they unveiled a 12-point manifesto titled "Artificial Intelligence: An Evangelical Statement of Principles."

It stresses that people are made in the image of God and declares that technology should never "be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency."

Nor should it be used in "the pursuit of sexual pleasure," the document states.

"AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God's design for human marriage," it states.

The statement also cautions about artificial intelligence's use in wartime, stating that "any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ human oversight or review. ... When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system."

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention convened Thursday's gathering.

More than 60 evangelical leaders have added their names to the statement, including the Rev. Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church of Northwest Arkansas and president-elect of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, and Mark Galli, editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, also added their names.

The Rev. Casey Hough, pastor of Camden's First Baptist Church, added his name and served on the committee that helped draft the document.

The five-page statement of principles, is posted at erlc.com/ai.

Artificial intelligence may be ushering in one of those "pivotal, paradigm-shifting moments of history that define civilization," said Andrew T. Walker, the commission's director of research and senior fellow in Christian ethics.

Working together, the "cross-disciplinary group of theologians, medical doctors, lawyers, ethicists, policy experts and tech experts" have crafted "a statement that we believe will be an important signpost for future evangelical reflection around technology and artificial intelligence," he added.

Hough, who worked in information technology before entering the ministry, said technology can be a force for good if harnessed properly and utilized ethically.

"We think AI can be very beneficial. We just recognize it also has to be governed by principles that don't devalue human beings," he said.

The world is on the cusp of extraordinary change, the evangelicals acknowledged.

"We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities," the statement declares.

Future technological advances, the statement says, "will allow us to achieve unprecedented possibilities."

If accompanied by "wisdom and care," technology's benefits can be enjoyed and its risks can be minimized, it adds.

Work will remain essential, no matter what advances lie ahead.

"Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities," the statement declares.

Technology will never have the power to eradicate death and disease, but it can improve health care and alleviate suffering, the document adds.

The document rejects the possibility of a dystopian future, with machines as masters and humans as slaves; no Terminator-type Doomsday awaits us.

"While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers," the statement declares.

While dismissing the possibility of a robot apocalypse, the drafters and signers expressed concerns about surrendering life-and-death decisions to algorithms.

Evangelicals are the latest group to voice concerns about the use of artificial intelligence in military operations.

Scientists, human rights activists and tech leaders have also raised the alarm.

Last month, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a similar warning, declaring that "machines with the power and discretion to take lives without human involvement are politically unacceptable, morally repugnant and should be prohibited by international law."

The statement of principles released Thursday says artificial intelligence can increase safety and security, but warned against using it to "suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings."

Russell Moore, the commission's president, said it's important for evangelicals to grapple now with the moral ramifications of artificial intelligence.

Sweeping and, at times, disruptive changes are coming, he said in an interview after the event.

"I just taught my sons to drive a couple of years ago. And I realized, they probably won't do this with their own children," he said.

By the time he has grandchildren who are old enough to drive, "the technology will probably have rendered ... the act of learning to drive a car irrelevant," Moore said.

That's going to mean a lot of upheaval for truckers and cabdrivers and delivery people, he noted.

"When all those things are gone immediately, we have to be ready for the social and spiritual costs that come along with that. I don't think we're giving enough attention to that," he said.

SundayMonday on 04/14/2019

Print Headline: Christian group unveils manifesto; technology should never outweigh human worth, it says

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Archived Comments

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    April 14, 2019 at 5:43 a.m.

    since most "Christians" love their trucks, 4wheelers, jobs, etc more than they love their fellows I would simply say to these so called "Christians"....
    Prove it.

  • 23cal
    April 14, 2019 at 6:59 a.m.

    About "Nor should it be used in "the pursuit of sexual pleasure," the document states.

    "AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God's design for human marriage," it states."
    *
    As long as no one is being harmed, how people pleasure themselves is none of their business. These godbots need to get their nosy noses out of people's bedrooms and women's uteri.

  • WGT
    April 14, 2019 at 7:29 a.m.

    1) The “church” already devalues life by putting forth an edict that people are “born sinners”. That is abuse.
    2) There is no visible or tangible evidence a “god” exists. People of Science have provably done more to “save” humanity than people of adherence to religion.
    3) Religion is the poison, Science is the antidote.

  • RBear
    April 14, 2019 at 7:47 a.m.

    Interesting initiative by the SBC. Still sifting through it, but so far I don't see any glaring problems with the statement, which is surprising when considering the efforts by ERLC. Fortunately, the SBC and the ERLC arm of it leveraged the talents of technologists and industry experts when crafting the principles written in standard affirmation style ("we affirm ... we deny").
    ...
    Jeffrey Thacker of ERLC is the principle organizer behind this statement. While some of his writings overstate extremes from what might be viewed as the opposition (he's watching way too many sci-fi movies), he did create a good framework for the evangelical leaders to focus on. It touches on many of the areas AI is being leveraged for. Hopefully, he will update the framework as the technology continues to advance.
    ...
    What I find more interesting are some of the supporting statements to the principles which seem to counter the message of evangelicals today, or at least those who try to assert their own bias into the political stream.
    ...
    Take for example, their affirmation on work. "The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together."
    ...
    Lay that against the debate regarding the work requirements and Medicaid expansion in AR and you'll easily see the disconnect. Quite simply, take Sen. Rapert's own judgement of the program as a great example of the diametric positions. It just shows the conflicts that exist within the SBC when they wade into the political spectrum. Quite honestly, I wish they'd just wade out and focus more on social justice in the community.

  • RBear
    April 14, 2019 at 7:48 a.m.

    fake why do you say that? What did Pete Buttigieg say that conflicts with this statement? Have you even read the statement or any statements by Buttigieg that show conflict?

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    April 14, 2019 at 8:11 a.m.

    bear gets it. on this issue.
    a boy is (born) and "Christians" are ready to ANYTHING to EXPUNGE the EVIL.
    ANYTHING.
    cutting
    drugging
    and if/when the unf. reprobate male messes up before or after the age of 18
    here are the "Christians" with nooses.
    he did some drugs the government didnt force on him!
    he's violent, he's evil!
    (he's 12)
    with disenfranchisement and sneers to those that fall off the so called system
    but we all pay the tax
    even the homeless pay taxes while our government claims to have cured poverty
    one hundred to two HUNDRED THOUSAND PER MONTH the CHURCH send to REPLACE. TO GRIND under the cast iron wheels of "progress".

  • JakeTidmore
    April 14, 2019 at 8:55 a.m.

    GMac needs to put that plug into his mouth. His hatred is vicious and venomous. Too often, his posts resemble nothing more than the sewer overflowing onto the neighborhood streets. Effluvia never passes for enlightenment, no matter how much bigots spew it out.

  • BoudinMan
    April 14, 2019 at 9:50 a.m.

    Do they have anything to say about cutting their hair? Or about wearing clothes of blended fabrics? They better read Leviticus. Or are they just about using their religious beliefs to practice bigotry and discrimination? Seems to be what some of these "religions" are about these days.

  • RBear
    April 14, 2019 at 10:17 a.m.

    BM that’s not what this is about. Yes, some locked onto their “sex” position but I think 23cal is the only one who honed in on their point. Read their positions. In many ways, they are a good conversation on AI from a moral POV.

  • PopMom
    April 14, 2019 at 10:21 a.m.

    From the Huffington Post:

    An infuriated Houston police chief blew up Friday on Twitter after an 11-year-old girl was ordered to be deported without her family.

    Chief Art Acevedo vented about the lack of human decency and “Nazis” enforcing laws following a story Thursday in the Houston Chronicle about the ordered deportation to El Salvador of Laura Maradiaga. Somehow the girl’s name was left off of court records when the family arrived for a hearing in Houston as part of their quest for asylum, according to her mother, Dora Alvarado.

    “I feel bad because I don’t want to be separated from my family,” Laura said in Spanish at a news conference Thursday aired onHouston’s KHOU-TV. “I don’t want to be taken away from my mom.”

    “This is heart-wrenching,” wrote Acevedo. “1,000 points of light? Family values? American values? Judeo-Christian values? If you’re a person of faith, speak out.”

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