Binary heart alexander sinn Kg Lt F Cgf C28 unsplash

From the Archbishop

Wisdom and AI

Combined ShapePathNews and EventsPathNews

The Most Revd Kay Goldsworthy AO, Archbishop

Welcome to the August Messenger – a bumper schools edition. Sit back, have a cuppa while you’re at the computer or enjoy reading on your phone on the train or bus, or while sitting at your desk. However you read the Messenger this month, I hope that the pages fill you with hope and joy at the good news of every one of the Anglican Schools who have been able to contribute something of their story.

I’ve been Googling about the history of Artificial Intelligence or ‘AI’ about which we are hearing so much right now. An online Britannica article (a trusted and many volumed encyclopedia which sat on the shelves of school and university libraries not so many years ago) dates the earliest substantial work to the mid-20th century by the British logician and computer pioneer Alan Turing.

In 1935, Turing described an abstract computing machine consisting of a limitless memory and a scanner that moves back and forth through the memory, symbol by symbol reading what it finds and writing further symbols. He called this a stored-program concept, and implicit with it is the possibility of the machine operating on, and so modifying or improving its own program. Turing’s conception is now known simply as the Universal Turing Machine. All modern computers are in essence Universal Turing Machines. Turing delivered what is considered possibly the earliest public talk mentioning Computer Intelligence as long ago as 1947: ‘What we want is a machine that can learn from experience’ for ‘the possibility of letting the machine alter its own instructions provides the mechanism for this’.

In 2023 the latest AI development – ChatGPT – has been in the news as a particular issue and challenge for schools. School principals and teachers as well as parents and carers have been weighing in on the debates. ChatGPT can generate humanlike conversations, drawing on online data to create an entire essay at the push of a button. This has raised concerns about the potential for cheating, and is seen by some as an easy way for students to avoid learning important skills and research study methods, even as educators continue investigating how it can be utilised to support and enhance learning.

The place of ChatGPT in schools also raises larger questions about the ethics of artificial intelligence in general. Like all technology, AI is essentially neutral until it is used for good or for bad – at worst, it can be weaponized, or used to generate misinformation while generating more.

The Church, of course, views technological advancements as largely positive. We are not uncritical about technologies which could possibly undermine human dignity and the place of public truth, but we begin by welcoming human initiative and development.

In the Church of England the Bishop of Oxford, who sits on the House of Lords’ select committee on AI has proposed ‘Ten Commandments’ for its ethical development and use:

  1. AI should be designed for all, and benefit humanity.
  2. AI should operate on principles of transparency and fairness and be well signposted.
  3. AI should not be used to transgress the data rights and privacy of individuals, families, or communities.
  4. The application of AI should be to reduce inequality of wealth, health, and opportunity.
  5. AI should not be used for criminal intent, nor to subvert the values of our democracy, nor truth, nor courtesy in public discourse.
  6. The primary purpose of AI should be to enhance and augment, rather than replace, human labour and creativity.
  7. All citizens have the right to be adequately educated to flourish mentally, emotionally, and economically in a digital and artificially intelligent world.
  8. AI should never be developed or deployed separately from consideration of the ethical consequences of its applications.
  9. The autonomous power to hurt or destroy should never be vested in AI.
  10. Governments should ensure that the best research and application of AI is directed toward the most urgent problems facing humanity.

Like our Jewish parents, Christians affirm that humankind is made in the image and likeness of God, and part of this inalienable and distinctive dignity is expressed in our ability to wonder, investigate, reason, communicate, and create. To pretend that we are outside the world of AI is not true, however it is equally wrong to think that all AI is dangerous, or that like a Hollywood blockbuster AI will take over humanity, somehow enslaving us, denying us, or compromising free will.

The advances in medical technologies, the potential of AI to help lessen suffering, feed the hungry, and bring relief from environmental degradation will be just some ways in which students in school today will contribute to the good of God’s world in future. Part of the contribution that Anglican schools make to the wider community comes from Christian values and purpose holding before them and their families the great story of God’s love for humanity, for the world, and God’s desire for this love to be known and expressed, shared and lived without fear in joy and hope and grace.

As the Letter of James says, let us never forget that ‘the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, accommodating, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere’.

In other news...