For the last few years I have been serving on the Church of Scotland's Society, Religion and Technology Project. Over the last 50 years this group has been investigating and reporting on important areas such as bioethics, the environment, technology, and the economy.
The latest report is one which I helped author which is of particular interest to me as I did much research of Artificial Intelligence some 20 years ago. The report is exploring some of the ways that Artificial Intelligence is affecting us today, what is good and what is troubling, and what our response as a church might be.
Internet-based new technologies are rapidly changing the way we live and have become a remarkable lifeline to people socially isolated during the covid-19 pandemic. Machines with artificial intelligence (AI),at the heart of search engines, voice assistants and speech and face recognition on mobile phones, are powering much of this revolution. AI is used in business and government administration, including the assessment of social security, employment and loan applications. AI algorithms also underpin some impressive innovations in healthcare, assisting doctors to diagnose illness, discover new drugs, read medical images and use robots in surgical operations.
The Church has many reasons to celebrate and embrace these technologies,but some difficult questions arise about the implementation of the digital revolution. Is our privacy adequately protected by the large tech companies who collect and profit from the personal data of everyonewho uses the internet? How much awareness is there amongst users of social media platforms of how those platforms function and monetise them, as users, selling and manipulating their attention for the sake of advertising revenue? How much human supervision is required when life-changing decisions about our health or employment are based on outputs from computers running AI algorithms? Who is held responsible when unfair or damaging decisions are made and do we really understand what these algorithms do? How safe are driverless cars, and who is responsible if things go wrong? How do we respond to the deployment of autonomous weapons or the use of sophisticated AI surveillance tools in policing and the persecution of religious groups by governments? Should we be fearful that runaway technology will move beyond human control? And, ultimately, how does increasing reliance on technology and AI implementations affect who we are as relational human beings, made in the image of God?
If you would like to read the full report, you can find it here.