A recent exchange with a friend raised an interesting possibility to me. Theology might just be able to save us from Artificial Intelligence. You see, it can be difficult to identify AI. It sounds so logical and rational. But what can be more illogical than religion? My friend sent me some ChatGPT responses to the story I posted on Easter about the perceived miracle in Connecticut. While the answers it gave sounded reasonable enough, it was clear that it doesn’t understand religion. Now, if I’ve learned anything from reading books about robot uprisings, it’s that you need to focus on the sensors—that’s how they find you. But if you don’t have a robot to look at, how can you tell if you’re being AIed?
You can try this on a phone with Siri. I’ve asked questions about religion before, and usually she gives me a funny answer. The fact is, no purely rational intelligence can understand theology. It is an exercise uniquely human. This is kind of comforting to someone such as yours truly who’s spend an entire lifetime in religious studies. It hasn’t led to fame, wealth, or even a job that I particularly enjoy, but I’ll be able to identify AI by engaging it with the kind of conversation I used to have with Jehovah’s Witnesses at my door. What does AI believe? Can it explain why it believes that? How does it reconcile that belief with the the contradictions that it sees in daily life? Who is its spiritual inspiration or model or teacher?
There are few safe careers these days. Much of what we do is logical and can be accomplished by algorithms. Religion isn’t logical. Even if mainstream numbers are dipping, many Nones call themselves spiritual, but not religious. That still works. We’ve all done something (or many somethings) out of an excess of “spirit.” Whether we classify the motivation as religious or not is immaterial. Theologians try to make sense of such things, but not in a way that any program would comprehend. I sure that there are AI platforms that can be made to sound like a priest, rabbi, or preacher, but as long as you have the opportunity to ask it questions, you’ll be able to know. And right quickly, I’m supposing. It’s nice to know that all those years of advanced study haven’t been wasted. When AI takes over, those of us who know religion will be able to tell who’s human and who’s not.