Yesterday, I read Psalm 115:4-8 with computers and AI in mind, and it impacted my understanding of both the psalm and humanity’s relationship with the technology we create.
See if you could see what I’m getting at by reading the passage:
Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands.
They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not:
They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not:
They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat.
They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.
Like what Nicholas Carr said in The Shallows, the technologies we shape shapes us. The computers software engineers and computer programmers program programs us in turn. Human beings create buttons and screens, and we learn to click, tap, press the lever for what we want.
Everything within our devices and within the Internet runs according to a hidden script–not necessarily a malicious one, but a script regardless, one built on equations and algorithms. The neutrality of any given algorithm isn’t exactly up for debate; each algorithm has a goal in mind, a reason for why it was created and set in place.
Each time we turn on the computer, log onto our accounts, use the Internet, we submit ourselves–minds, bodies, souls–to the script, clicking and scrolling and viewing what we’re given. Even when we conduct searches where we type in our own search phrases, unsolicited search suggestions crop up; algorithms show, hide, and queue search results outside of your control; what you can find or will see is controlled by someone (or most likely, something) who knows much more about you than you’d ever know of them or it.
As the Psalmist said, they who create them and trust in them become like that. Yes, technology lends us their power–but when we create, use, and come to trust them, they also lend us their limitations.
To write with typewriters, we learned which letter corresponded to which finger, and wrote not by forming the letters ourselves, but punching away on a keyboard.
To program computers, we’ve had to learn to limit our thinking processes–all the colourful, creative capabilities of our living and plastic brains–to the linear and stagnant way machines work. We have to become like them in some way, after all, to communicate with and control them at all.
To create artificial intelligence, we’ve had to flatten human intelligence–with all its nuances, personalities, wisdom, emotions, and creativity–into a highly complex web of calculations, equations, and algorithms that can never be anything more than a parody of what intelligence God has already given the human being.
Has technology become our idols, things we made for ourselves that we worship (consciously or not), inanimate objects that have come to shape, govern, and undermine the way human beings go about being human beings?
Don’t get me wrong–this short essay isn’t meant to be an attack on technology, software engineers, and ChatGPT. I have friends and family within, and entering the industry; I’ve made more than my share from using AI to boost work productivity in the past; and I am fascinated by the growth and abilities of computers, machine learning, and the Internet.
I’m just wondering if the Psalmist is on to something here; and if he is, what we should be doing about it…