Hope in an Artificial Age

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature, old things are passed away, all things become new (2 Cor 5:17)

As we make our way back to work flowing the Easter break it’s important to remember that in Christ we are all new creatures and that the mistakes, errors and sins of the past can be buried through him. That is one of the many joys we as Christians experience.

Contrast that to the rather grim predictions of George Orwell about what lies in store for us. “If you want a picture of the future of the human race ,” he once famously observed, “imagined a boot stamping on a human face for ever.”

So could it be that in the future we will live in a world where we are effectively reduced to slavery? In recent weeks there has much concern expressed over the many shortcomings of Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple and how these internet giants have much more control over the course of our lives than we realise. They have been dragged into a public debate about their activities and forced to change some of their conduct – or suffer the competitive consequences.

But as Anne McElvoy recently pointed out in the Daily Telegraph the really worrying area where unaccountable power threatens to take over our lives is in the realm of Artificial Intelligence or AI, especially in those countries where such as China where there is weak accountability.

In the People’s Republic, she writes, “the speed of innovation and implementation of robotics and advanced machine learning is matched by a tightening of control by the state.

“The power and threat of AI lies in the fact that it is now so close to all our lives and impervious to state borders, as companies increasingly integrate search engines, speech-recognition and automated customer-service bots into their products and services,” McElvoy said.

“The West cannot opt out of the race against AI developers in undemocratic countries, because it is a globalised business, whose products can be transferred at low cost across borders. That makes it virtually impossible to guard against some data ending up in the wrong hands.”

AI is likely to have a bigger impact than anything since the advent of computers, and its consequences could be far more disruptive. Being both powerful and relatively cheap, it will spread faster than computers did and touch every industry, the Economist said. It is likely to affect us in three fundamental ways:

Jobs – The McKinsey Global Institute reckons that by 2030 up to 375m people, or 14% of the global workforce, could have their jobs automated away

Privacy protection – AI will offer even better tools for businesses to monitor consumers and employees, both online and in the physical world

Law enforcement – China is already using AI to monitor political activity and suppress dissent. Law-enforcement officials around the world will use AI to spot criminals, but may also snoop on ordinary citizens

Companies and competition – Today many firms are competing to provide AI-enhanced tools to companies. But a technology company that achieves a major breakthrough in artificial intelligence could race ahead of rivals, putting others out of business

China is now in serious competition with the US for dominance in AI, the FT said. No European nation remotely competes at these volumes and, even taken as a whole, Europe is not really in competition for gold or silver.

But why does all this matter? Because as British-born Chinese entrepreneur Andrew Ng recently explained, AI is the “new electricity”, and just as electricity transformed many industries 100 years ago, so it will change nearly every major industry”.

Given that live in such a world of uncertainty isn’t it reassuring that just as we new creatures in Christ so His love remains the same, yesterday, today and forever?