As Abraham van de Beek, professor emeritus at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, explains, “who we are” is not found in looking inward at ourselves but outward toward our Creator. This is because when we look inward, we only see an illusion of ourselves—an identity we created to cover over our true identity, which can only be discovered in relation to our Creator. Only when we deny ourselves can we know who we are.
AI and the Imageo Dei
There is an alternative to the dangers of creating in our own broken image. Designing creatures and caring for them requires more than just setting ethical parameters. We can take this cue from Scripture, where standards for living are an important but secondary part of what it means to be human. What makes us human is the divine design itself.
Think of it like this: When God designed people, he didn’t ask the question, “How can we make people to make our life better?” or “How can we make people to serve us?” He could have done that and been just in doing so—but instead, he chose to make people in his own image, with the ability to relate and love, not just receive commands. If we want to follow God’s creative example, perhaps we, too, should aim to fashion things with the ability to relate and love, and not just to receive commands.
Indeed, the uniting conflict in fictions such as Westworld, Ted 2, and Chappie is that people exploit robots because people create robots that are exploitable. Because we are made in the image of God, with the ability to choose or reject love, we are not inherently exploitable by God. We can only exploit ourselves.
This is not, of course, an argument for an unchecked or parameter-less AI; rather it is a reminder of Jesus’ example that sometimes the Creator must take the role of the servant for the good of the created. Jesus was willing to humble himself for our sake. He was willing to show love to his created. As we act as sub-creators ourselves, we can do the same.
Douglas Estes is an Assistant Professor of New Testament & Practical Theology and DMin Program Director at South University—Columbia, as well as the author/editor of many books on biblical scholarship and the church, including Questions and Rhetoric in the Greek New Testament (Zondervan, 2017). His focus is the intersection of text, church, and world.