Chatbots are taking over drive-through ordering systems at fast food restaurants. According to the chief executive of the company providing this technology to nearly 350 restaurants around the country, “In three years I don’t think there’s going to be any human taking an order in any drive-through in the US.”
Meanwhile, a news-content channel on TikTok has announced what it claims to be “the world’s first fully AI automated news edition presented by digital avatar clones.” A commentary chatbot was used at this year’s Wimbledon for highlight reels published online. Artificial intelligence is already taking over some tasks in health care. And Google is melding AI technology with robots to make them smarter.
With this news as a backdrop, let’s consider a statement made at a Hudson Institute event on July 20 by Lt. Gen. Richard Moore, Air Force deputy chief of staff for plans and programs. Addressing the use of AI in warfare, he noted: “Regardless of what your beliefs are, our society is a Judeo-Christian society and we have a moral compass. Not everybody does, and there are those that are willing to go for the ends regardless of what means have to be employed, and we’ll have to be ready for that.”
He then asked: “What will the adversary do? It depends who plays by the rules of warfare and who doesn’t. There are societies that have a very different foundation than ours.” According to Gen. Moore, the path to using AI ethically in warfare is a “very important discussion” that is being held at the “very highest levels” of the Defense Department.
When truth is “what works”
Artificial intelligence is just one arena where our technology has outpaced our ethics.
We can add genetic experimentation, cyborg medicine (melding humans and machines), and other forms of eugenics to the list along with “advances” in euthanasia techniques. As the internet and mobile devices become ever more ubiquitous, so does pornography.
To the degree that our society follows the “moral compass” Gen. Moore embraces, we have guidance for these and other ethical challenges. But our escalating irreligiosity offers little hope that such guidance will become conventional wisdom any time soon.
To the contrary, our culture is dominated by situation ethics, which teaches that moral decision making depends entirely on circumstantial context. Americans are utilitarian pragmatists, defining truth as “what works” to achieve the “greatest good for the greatest number.” And a secularized culture predictably measures “what works” by secular, observable standards.
Consequently, we are witnessing a declining interest in religion and the humanities. As Villanova University scholar Terence Sweeney explains, this decline is due in large part to our cultural redefinition of value as “use”: unless something is useful in an obviously practical way, it is useless and will decline in value.
Thus the rise in Western education in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) studies, the drop in humanities enrollment, and the well-documented decline in religion, especially among younger populations.
A thought experiment
What is our hope for a more moral future?
Let’s conduct a brief thought experiment centered on this maxim: When we love someone, we love what they love and hate what they hate.
If I love my friend who has cancer, I must love his children and hate his disease. However, this principle is not entirely true for everyone in every circumstance. For example, if I love my alcoholic friend, I must hate the alcohol he loves and love the sobriety he hates.
Thus, our maxim unconditionally applies only to our sinless Lord (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus is the only Person who perfectly loves what I should love and hates what I should hate. Consequently, to live a truly moral life, I should:
- Love the lost like the One who came to seek and to save them (Luke 19:10).
- Love sinners like the One who ate with them (Matthew 9:10–12).
- Love those who reject our faith like the One who asked his Father to forgive his crucifiers (Luke 23:34).
- Love those in need like the One who fed their bodies and souls (John 6:1–14; cf. Jeremiah 22:16).
And I should:
- Hate religious hypocrisy like the One who condemned it so fiercely (Matthew 23).
- Hate sins like the One who bore them on his cross (1 Peter 2:24).
- Hate the sufferings of others like the One who wept with and for bereaved sisters (John 11:35).
In short, to live a moral life, I should love Jesus like he loves me and then love others like he loves them.
A transformative promise
What are some practical ways to do this?
One: Since love is a “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22), ask the Spirit to manifest his love for our Lord in our lives. Then refuse the sins that would hinder the Spirit and confess the failures that grieve him.
Two: Since we become more like someone by spending time with them, choose to “practice the presence of Christ,” as Brother Lawrence famously suggested (cf. Colossians 4:2). Henri Nouwen explained that to pray “means to think and live in the presence of God” as we “move from a self-centered monologue to a God-centered dialogue. This requires that we turn all our thoughts into conversation.”
Three: Since love is an action more than a feeling, do what love does. Ask ourselves each day, “If I loved Jesus more than I do, what would I do differently?” Then do it.
Jesus made his followers this transformative promise: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Not we “might,” but we “will.”
Will you keep Jesus’ commandments today?