Book Review: The Age of AI

Sunday, 24 January 2021

Even before national lockdowns, and our interactions with the world being mediated through screens, we have been interacting with artificial intelligence every day. Be that a social media feed, YouTube or Netflix recommendations, smart home devices, online translation services, etc, it all has AI behind it. Last year Jason Thacker wrote The Age of AI: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity to help navigate some of the challenging questions living in a world of AI brings up. Over the last week I’ve been reading through it… [1]

Jason Thacker, works as the Chair of Research in Technology Ethics for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission which seeks “to assist the churches by helping them understand the moral demands of the gospel, apply Christian principles to moral and social problems…” [2]. So, with that perspective The Age of AI is written for Christians, regardless of level of technical engagement, as they begin to engage with some of the questions that are being asked as artificial intelligence begins to come into the foreground.

It’s not a book that makes speculative guesses on what might happen in the future of tech, instead the book is a helpful primer focusing on where AI currently is. Jason takes the key areas where we encounter AI in our daily lives; in the home, with the family, at work, in the hospital, etc, and then explores them from a Christian perspective.

The take is refreshingly biblical. Jason points out that the Bible doesn’t really address AI head on, so he writes:

“…the Bible doesn’t have to address an issue specifically for us to seek wisdom, because if that were the case, we would have no direction on artificial intelligence or even hour to use our iPhones. We must see the Bible not as our answer book but as a guide that helps inform us of the best way to live in accordance with God’s design and in his grace.” [3]

And that is what follows; in each chapter Jason gives a Biblical approach to each area that he is reflecting on, carefully looking at the pattern laid out in the Bible, and then reflects on how technology with AI behind it can both help and hinder this pattern.

One of the other thing that sets this book apart for me is that it refuses to get drawn into vilifying or exalting the tech. There are too many articles that fall off one of these sides of the horse - either writing that AI will save our planet or, that Skynet and the singularity [4] is around the corner. The Age of AI does not do this.

Each chapter is watchfully optimistic. So when talking about the impact of technology in the family and friendships Jason doesn’t shy way from saying that “technology is creating pressure on families, and that trend is just the beginning” .[5] But his response isn’t to throw it out the machines, instead to challenge the reader to think about what those pressures are, and to explore how you, and your family can learn, grow, and use the technology well without being shaped by them. That’s not a trivial job, but the fruit of the work put in will be shown, or the reverse he warns; “if you abdicate your responsibility on the front end, you will reap your harvest in due time.” [6]

There have been a lot of changes in our world over the last year, AI has been central to a significant number of them. What this book does (and so much more) is remind me that in the midst of a changing world, there is a God who has set the pattern and ‘best practice’ for how to live in it. The Age of AI acts as a handbook to start thinking how to think, navigate, and explore this new world well.

Footnotes

  1. By way of admission; Jason very kindly posted me an early release copy of this book which arrived just as the UK went into lockdown for the first time round. In the midst of trying to get married, moving house, and that pandemic thing going on, reading wasn’t something I could quite face at the time. Things have calmed down a bit now. Jason; I’m so very sorry this review is late in coming. ↩︎

  2. Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission Mission Statement ↩︎

  3. The Age of AI, Jason Thacker, Chapter 7: Data and Privacy (Pg 157) ↩︎

  4. The Singularity is the idea that in the (not to distant) future AI with out strip human intelligence and ability. It’s much loved by end-of-the-world sci-fi films such as The Matrix and Terminator. Jason does touch on this subject, but only in passing in the last few pages of the book (pages 175-180) ↩︎

  5. The Age of AI, Jason Thacker, Chapter 4: Family (Pg 94) ↩︎

  6. The Age of AI, Jason Thacker, Chapter 4: Family (Pg 98) ↩︎

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