A Courageous Response

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

There is an emerging new force at work in our world today. What was the stuff of sci-fi movies or futurist presentations is becoming a staple of news and conversation. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now a part of everyday life. And what strikes me most about it as I listen to the experts is a fascinating mix of excitement, confusion and fear. You see, there was a key moment when the inventors of what we call AI today moved from using rules-based thinking (which is fairly easy for us to plan for and predict) to using neural network thinking (which has seemingly infinite ways of linking and learning). That moment the game changed and we began a journey to where we are today. 

Data scientists and engineers are daily discovering powerful ways to use AI. The ways it can help us be more productive and effective continue to surprise us. But these same experts are also still learning how their invention really works. We are in a time of experimentation and testing. There is a lot of fear about the unknown and debate about "sentience" but that is not what I'm talking about here. 

The fact is that the smartest people in the room are still developing AI, understanding how it works and testing its potential. Those who love new things are brimming with excitement with each new announcement; while those who are more skeptical are struggling to see the good AI can do and trust those doing the inventing and testing with such a potentially disruptive new technology. It is in our nature to both love and fear things we don't understand. 

At the end of the day, no matter how amazing the power of AI is, the real issue will come back to whether we trust the people who designing, deploying, and integrating it. And we have all seen the research showing how low trust levels are across the globe. 

Whatever the outcome of this moment, one thing is for sure: the resulting changes across most areas of life will be hard to predict. The ensuing disruptions will bring both amazing opportunities and real danger. So how should a person of faith respond in the face of such unpredictable power? 

My thoughts turn to a God-follower who was faced with an unrivaled and unpredictable power. Daniel was brought to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzer after the defeat of Judah and the beginning of the exile. His life is one of the most instructive corollaries to what we are going through today that I have found. 

In Daniel chapter 2, a young and powerful king flexes his muscle in a way that sends his whole court into chaos. Riding high after his military successes and his new-found power as king, he has a dream that rocks him to the core. You can imagine how Nebuchadnezzar's combination of unbridled power and sudden unease might have brought about a dangerous concoction. He responded by wielding his power in a very dramatic and unpredictable way. He demands that his wisemen and seers not only interpret his dream, which was fairly standard fair, but also tell him what he dreamed! The wisemen were astonished and terrified. No one could predict what this new king would do. 

It is at this moment that Daniel enters into the picture. It would be easy to breeze over Daniel's response but when you consider what had just happened in the King's court, Daniel's response one of the most dramatic examples of principled courage in Scripture. Part of what makes his response remarkable is the great humility that Daniel demonstrates. The wisemen in a king's court received great honor and deference if they were seen to have the power of the gods. Throughout Daniel's response he is careful to give God all of the glory for the insights and understanding he shares. This backdrop of humility and dependence on God make the response I will describe below even more compelling.

Daniel does three things in his moment that I believe are a blueprint for how we should respond to this AI Moment.  
  • First, he sought to understand. He asked the commander of the King's guard, Arioch, to help him understand what was going on. And with that understanding, he went one step further and went to the King himself. 
  • Second, he went to his closest friends and fellow God followers and asked them to join him in prayer. I can imagine that they spent time praying together and then on their own as they went to bed that night. I can imagine that the prayers were both urgent and confident.
  • Finally, when Daniel received insight from God, he obediently took the interpretation of the dream to the King. And as he shared it, he faithfully interpreted the dream framed within the world that God created and the kingdom he reigns over. In verse 44 Daniel highlights a key part of the dream that brings the king to the bigger picture, "In the time of those kinds, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people..."
Today we are faced with a powerful and unpredictable force in the AI revolution. It has the potential to do a lot of good or harm. If you tune into the news or log onto social media, the world is buzzing with excitement and worry . . . much like the halls of King Nebuchadnezzar's palace after his confrontation with his wisemen. But as people of faith, we should not allow ourselves to get carried away by the excitement or the worry. Both are misplaced if our primary trust and confidence isn't in God and his power. 

So let's take note of Daniel's response and imitate his faithful courage. What might that look like? 
  • First, take time to learn how AI works and how it is impacting society, your profession and those around you. Seek to understand this powerful new tool that humans have created. There are so many amazing ways it can help to advance God's will and ways; not unlike how God used Nebuchadnezzar and worked in his life. 
  • Second, go to God in community and on your own with an urgency and a dependency that is commensurate with the seriousness of the moment. This AI Moment requires more than a passing prayer.
  • Third, as God gives us insight into what He is up to in the world, He will expect us to respond courageously. God may ask us to take bold action that can only be done with the Spirit's guidance and God's strength. It may  require great personal sacrifice to act in obedience in a world being guided and driven without a moral framework.
When Daniel received the interpretation of the king's dream, the book of Daniel records the prayer he prayed. This prayer is one that is appropriate for this AI Moment. 

"Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.
He changes times and seasons;
he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the discerning.
He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what lies in the darkness,
and light dwells with him.
I thank you and praise you, God of my ancestors:
You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
you have made known to us the dream of the king."
Daniel 2:20-23