AI Isn’t Becoming Personal; We’re Becoming Artificial

When Rings of Power, Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series, was first released, I fully intended to write down some of my thoughts, especially to see if my predictions were correct. But after pushing myself through all eight episodes, I simply couldn’t bring myself to spend any further brain cells on something so, to be frank, dumb. Recently, however, I came across a video essay on YouTube that stirred some thoughts worth sharing.

The video explores the question that its title asks: “Was the Rings of Power Script AI Generated?” Her thoughts are certainly worth considering, though be warned that she plays a clip of another video at 7:30 that has one profanity, but the nutshell of her argument is that so much of the dialogue and plot points of the show feel like the AI content that has recently been making its way throughout the Internet.

The most popular current AI platform, ChatGPT, has produced some shockingly decent writing and art. Even so, something almost always feels off when reading or viewing something generated by AI. When it comes to art, many have noted that AI seems to have a particularly difficult time with getting hands to look right. And the writing very often feels abundantly competent yet ultimately soulless, skin-deep and nothing more.

Indeed, as an example, here is a devotion that I asked ChatGPT to generate on Psalm 119:69, which you can then compare with what I wrote.

The opening scene of Rings of Power certainly has that same general feel. Here is the dialogue between young Galadriel and her brother, Finrod, from that scene, which you can watch here:

Finrod: Do you know why a ship floats and a stone cannot? Because the stone sees only downward. The darkness of the water is vast and irresistible. The ship feels darkness as well, striving moment by moment to master her and pull her under. But the ship has a secret. For unlike the stone, her gaze is not downward but up. Fixed upon the light that guides her, whispering of grander things that darkness ever knew.

Galadriel: But sometimes the lights shine just as brightly reflected in the water as they do in the sky. It’s hard to say which way is up and which way is down. How am I to know which lights to follow?

[Here Finrod whispers inaudibly in her ear, but at the end of the episode in what was supposed to be a big moment, he is revealed to have said:] Sometimes we cannot know until we have touched the darkness.

That all sounds well enough at first (look up to the light and float or look down to the darkness and sink), but the more you ponder over these words the more you realize how quickly they fail the depth test. They certainly fail to live up to the depth of wisdom that permeates Tolkien’s writings, especially since he was so deeply rooted in a Christian worldview and the great writings of the past.

Yet as fascinating as I find the idea of Rings of Power being AI generated, I do not believe that to be the case, but the fact that the case can be made compellingly at all gave me a startling realization about the nature of AI and of humanity: I do not believe that AI will ever develop a living consciousness, but we may certainly grow to resemble AI by becoming more and more artificial ourselves.

Allow me to explain.

As a Christian, I believe fully in the imago Dei, that humans are made in the image of God, in His likeness. Although animals are capable of remarkable intelligence, they will never exhibit the personhood that marks humanity. Of course, angels are also personal beings but are not said to be bearers of God’s image. Even so, I believe, no matter how impressive our own creations become, it is utterly beyond our ability to create a new category of life. That is the prerogative of the Creator alone. Thus, from my view, if AI appears to develop personhood, that appearance is likely to be caused by one of two possibilities.

First, demonic forces could be working through that technological channel, think the Head of the N.I.C.E. from That Hideous Strength. This notion may sound a bit far-fetched, especially given how rooted in materialism we tend to be. I would argue, however, that drugs are very often channels for demonic activity. Indeed, in Galatians 5:20, the Greek word that the ESV translates as sorcery is pharmakeia, from which we derive words like pharmacist, pharmacy, and pharmaceutical. If chemicals can be spiritual conduits, I do not see why technology, screens, and algorithms couldn’t be as well.

Second, and I think this one is more likely, we are beginning to resemble artificial intelligence ourselves. Lewis toys with this idea in his Narnia books by having some animals that can talk and others that are normal, dumb animals. In fact, in The Magician’s Nephew, Aslan warns the newly created talking beasts to treat the dumb animals well, saying, “For out of them you were taken and into them you can return. Do not so.” This then happens to a particular cat in The Last Battle.

But the most relevant for our discussion is a comment that Lucy makes in Prince Caspian to her sister Susan:

Wouldn’t it be dreadful if some day in our own world, at home, men started going wild inside, like the animals here, and still looked like men, so that you’d never know which were which?

Could that not be something like what Paul describes in Romans 1 when God gives people over to their sinful desires? Or how about Psalm 115:8’s warning that those who make lifeless idols “become like them; so do all who trust in them”? And might that not be something similar to what we are presently experiencing? How long can we communicate in meme before we become walking memes? How long must we spend endlessly scrolling, spending only a few seconds on each post, before we begin to reflect the same lack of attention and focus whenever we look up from our phones?

Perhaps we are looking at the whole thing from the wrong angle. Instead of being afraid of how intelligent AI is becoming, maybe we should take warning of how artificial we are becoming.


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