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Christians in the technological age

We need to shape the evolution of artificial intelligence, says CARE CEO Nola Leach

Nola Leach, CEO of CARE, says robots are going to change society and Christian teaching should shape the evolution.

There’s nothing futuristic about robots and artificial intelligence (AI) anymore; they are fully present with us in our day-to-day lives – from automated machines, SAT NAVs, Siri and driverless cars. How we choose to interact and use this technology will shape society for years to come.

There’s a danger we end up cruising further into the technological age, ill-prepared. But that needn’t be the case; however futurtistic AI may seem, Christian teaching does have some of the very answers we are seeking. Christian theology on true human identity and traditional Christian teaching on love, respect and dignity can and should inform how we shape this dawning age.

God created humans to have dominion over all creation. He created us in His image. We are called to affirm and recognise that human beings are special: what makes us distinctly human should be protected. As humans we have always created tools that enable us to live different kinds of lives. Robots and AI will always be tools, but we must control them; they must not control us.

We are living longer and having fewer children. So, who will take care of us as we age? Robots are playing an increasingly prominent role in caring for the elderly and vulnerable. Japan uses carebots’ to look after the elderly. In Britain, rising social care costs and our ageing population will put more pressure on the NHS. Should we be looking to carebots as a solution?

God created humans to have dominion over all creation.

Whilst robots could ease staff shortages in care homes, help the elderly to live with dignity, they cannot replace human interaction. With more than half of people over 75 living alone and a fifth of the population admitting they’re always or often lonely (British Red Cross, Co-op 2016), we cannot accept a society where robots are the only point of contact the elderly have.

Similarly, the introduction of new and smarter technology coming into the family home will alter how we carry out tasks and allocate our time. And we’d all agree that children are becoming increasingly digitalised. Robots and AI will continue to influence family life and relationship dynamics, but we must make sure that technology does not replace genuine family interaction.

I believe new technology and AI have the potential to do immense good, but that we need to take responsibility to control it. We need to set boundaries and be clear about what is and is not acceptable. Christian principles are not only useful in this debate, they are vital. That is why CARE has been getting involved.

Last year we held two robotics seminars, including one in parliament. We brought together Christian thinkers, technological experts and church leaders for a sold-out conference in July. We commissioned robotics expert Nigel Cameron to write two books: The Robots Are Coming: Us, Them and God, and God and My Mobile: Keeping the Faith in a Digital World, which is out this autumn.

We don’t want to run from this challenge, nor do we want to be naïve. The church has teaching that is needed to shape the boundaries we set. The robots are coming. The question is: are we ready for them?

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