Mid-week Pastor’s Update 1-19-23

Apologies for getting this out a day late! Be sure to read to the bottom to see important prayer requests and announcements.

Anaheim SDA Church

Mid-week Pastor’s Update

January 19th, 2022

“What is Man, that you are mindful of him?” Psalm 8:4

If you have an interest in following tech news, you may know that in recent months advancements in AI (artificial intelligence) have come “close to home” in activities that we frequently do.

Computer and robotic replacements for formerly human-performed tasks are nothing new: from the invention of the 4-function calculator to modern assembly lines at car plants, automation has replaced human efforts in many aspects. People of course have been concerned for decades about what this would mean for working class people: that they could, through no fault of their own, suddenly find themselves edged out of a job by automatons who can work tirelessly, endlessly, on nothing but an electricity supply and occasional maintenance. Indeed, workers have had to accommodate: up-training to jobs that, as of yet, haven’t been automatized. In short, it’s great for raising productivity and, in the long run, decreasing costs, but at cost to human sustenance and fulfillment.

But what seems to be occurring recently is different: AI is now able to make quite stunning works of visual art, which I was impressed with when I first saw it in late 2022 (indeed, the picture above I ‘commissioned’ to be generated by an AI ‘bot’*). I immediately worried, though: what will this do to human-made art? Will artists, who already have an increasingly hard time sustaining themselves financially, continue to be a viable part of society? Why would someone pay an artist thousands of dollars to create something that a bit of trial-and-error could create using AI? I suppose similar concerns were expressed 100+ years ago regarding portrait painters at the invention of the camera.

But it begs the question: what is art? Is art something merely aesthetic that can be appreciated? Or does it have to do with intent of production on the part of the producer? Put another way, would an art gallery ever host a showing of purely AI creations? If so, would anybody go to such a showing? It seems kind of futile already to host art shows, since copious amounts of “art” can be made by going online*. But then we just find ourselves devaluing art! It’s no longer rare, it’s no longer tied to an artist who painstakingly made it… and that can’t be good, can it?

And then, a couple of weeks ago, I found something potentially even more alarming: I learned that AI ‘bots’ are able to produce written articles, essays, and the like! And analysts are saying these are quite good, approaching indistinguishability from those written by people! These exclamation points I’m using are more punctuations of surprised alarm than enthusiasm, because it begs the question: what will come of human production of written material? What will it mean for newspaper & journalism? For poets and authors? For pastors even, if a bot can do just as good a job?**

What I worry is that this will rob creative writers (and possibly speakers) of the motivation to create!

I remember reading a sci-fi book years ago where an alien species hovered their spaceships over the earth. They didn’t destroy anything, didn’t announce themselves, just hovered over the earth for a period of like 3 years. Humanity was at first shocked and alarmed, then accommodated (“got used to”) it, then gradually lost their motivation to do & achieve things, implicitly knowing that they were not the superior power of the universe, and that their destinies were more in the hands of these silent observers overhead than their own.

I worry that something similar is going to happen with AI! “Why strive to achieve? The AI bots & robots will soon be doing everything anyway.”

This certainly portends doom, and seems like a look into the abyss of despair.

But then I also consider: If humanity has, actually, made AI that can do things autonomously, it’s kind of a version of what God did when He made us. We’ve long known we’re created in the image of our maker; I believe the desire to create in our image (via kids and now via computers & AI) is an extension of that.

But the big difference is that God made us each *personal* sources of intelligence. Bound in a body, collected in a society of others, and given resources to work with, and others to interact with. These computer bots doing processes in the ‘cloud’ (really warehouses of servers in far-off, sparsely-populated places) is really soul-less! Like: this technology can totally outlive our generation, and will have a faultless memory going forward, but for what? It certainly begs an existential crisis both for us, and for it, if it ever gains the ability to consider its own existence.

This brings me back to the verse quoted above: “What is Man, that you are mindful of him?”

If we cease to be the superior source of intelligence in the universe, where does that leave us? Evolutionists might ponder that we have, in creating thinking computers, evolved ourselves out of usefulness.

But does our intelligence determine the value of our worth in the world/universe?

To be beloved by God: to be precious to Him, treasured by him, is where I have to turn to keep any sense of self-worth. I have to run into the arms of my “Abba – daddy” much as a toddler does to its loving parent.

Only God, and unconditional love from people which flows from God, can provide purpose outside of ‘being the greatest in the known universe’. We are not defined by our achievements – though we are invited to achieve by God, and look what we’ve accomplished!

But our best advancements are not unlike a 5-year old making works of finger paints for parents to magnetize to the refrigerator. We love the work because our beloved kids made them: they have no intrinsic value of their own. An elephant, or now an AI ‘bot’, can do better!

It has to go to the love: we have to focus on love. That is what will forever differentiate us from the cold brilliance we have created as a species. As Paul reflects on in 1st Corinthians, where so many other great things find their end, “love never fails” (v. 8).

I pray you will nestle into the love of God today, and that, grounded and couched in that unconditional love, that you’ll extend loving arms out to others. Invite them into the warm embrace as well. It alone is what will give us our sense of belonging and togetherness in the long-run.

Sincerely,

Pr. Mark Tatum

* https://www.fotor.com/features/ai-image-generator/ (I typed in “Biblical king David gazing up at starry sky”

** I watched a youtube video in which a Christian vlogger made a 3-minute devotional based on a Bible passage, and gave two AI bots from different apps/websites the same challenge, from the same passage, and read all three, challenging people to guess which one he had made himself. I had to admit, I didn’t know! Here’s the link to that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXdPaX8uCBU

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