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I recently read an insightful essay written three years ago by Henry Kissinger (now 98 years old) called How the Enlightenment Ends which is a warning regarding, among other things, the usage of Artificial Intelligence in the fields of philosophy and politics.

The Enlightenment started with essentially philosophical insights spread by a new technology. Our period is moving in the opposite direction. It has generated a potentially dominating technology in search of a guiding philosophy.

The Atlantic.com - June 2018

It would not surprise me if moves were afoot to use AI within Christianity in regard to examination of the scripture (to arrive at doctrinal conclusions) or in the examination of the wide spectrum of beliefs within Christendom (in order to 'normalize' faith itself).

Is there any reliable information about such ongoing or proposed projects ?


EDIT AFTER COMMENT : My question does not promote or condone AI. I am merely asking if it is being used for the kind of purposes I am outlining. Personally, that would concern me as an adverse step.

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    I don't understand what you are getting at. Apply Artificial intelligence to doctrine? That sounds like applying artificial intelligence to gastronomic culture. It's a tool (and a broad one at that) designed and applied by fallible men.
    – eques
    Jul 12 at 17:55
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    That's just a repackaging of your initial text. It's still not clear what you think artificial intelligence is. What makes you think that a computer tool programmed by fallible humans can do better than a set of humans over centuries?
    – eques
    Jul 12 at 18:00
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    Already I believe AI is being used for theorem proving in mathematics. Your question sounds like a related topic. I understand your question to be something along the lines of, “Can you train a computer to arrive at doctrinal conclusions by reading the Bible in much the same way we have already taught them to rule on court cases and prove mathematical theorems?” Interesting question. +1. Jul 12 at 18:23
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    @NigelJ One major AI use (already deployed) is in massive text analysis, in conjunction with statistics. Automatic grammar correction, language translation, search engine suggestions is based on a combination of statistical proximity plus some machine-learning feedback from human experts in creating a model which is then deployed to software. Another application on the horizon is to assist contract lawyers, by searching massive historic case laws for relevant precedents as well as making sure all angles are covered in a contract for completeness check. Jul 12 at 18:43
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    @NigelJ Based on that, one AI application would be to assist Bible translator, Bible interpreter (to find matching Greek/Hebrew usage in extra biblical texts), and theologians (to generate relevant citations of Bible commentaries or similar treatment of a doctrine in historical / contemporary works). Since teaching authority will remain in the hands of church leaders, I doubt there is a danger. If there is, it's a discovery of unorthodox interpretation that can rewrite Bible interpretation / history of theology, which can affect our understanding of the catholicity of a doctrine. Jul 12 at 18:49
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Technology is definitely used to aid Bible interpreters and teachers. Theological colleges will now frequently encourage their students to use Bible software such as Accordance or Logos, and run workshops showing how they enable you to perform complex searches (for example, find me all examples of χάρις (grace) with an aorist verb, or find me all passages with grace and sin within 3 verses of each other), or to present statistics on the Biblical text (I used Accordance to show that the use of prophet and seer in the Old Testament are mostly in a complementary distribution). These examples wouldn't meet the current definition of machine learning (though possibly the databases they work on were constructed with ML?), but no doubt in coming years the tools will be expanded to use more technological advancements.

AI is also frequently used in the production of Bible translations. In addition to machine translation being used to produce a first draft of a translation (when a related language has a completed translation already), cutting the time it takes to complete a New Testament from 20 years to 10 or less, probably the most fascinating and innovative use of AI is in producing video translations in sign languages.

Many Bibles are being translated in places where it is dangerous to be publicly known as a Christian. Regular translations can be published anonymously, but a video translation in a sign language presents a big problem: how do you hide the person signing in front of the camera? Facial expressions are important, so you can't just crop the video to only show their hands. Wycliffe Bible Translators' solution is to use motion capture and neural networks to process the video, and reproduce the translation using a computer generated avatar. It not only tracks their hands, but also the signer's body and even precise facial expressions. Processing the video of a human signer like this is more reliable, natural, and faster than if they tried to generate the animation from scratch through traditional computer animation techniques. Read more about this project at wycliffe.org.au.

The software that processes video of a person signing into an avatar

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    That's a very busy background for sign language. Surprising.
    – TRiG
    Jul 13 at 13:31
  • These are interesting uses of computer technology in bible searching and translation, but what do they have to do with the use of AI for "examination of the scripture (to arrive at doctrinal conclusions) or in the examination of the wide spectrum of beliefs within Christendom (in order to 'normalize' faith itself)"?
    – LarsH
    Jul 14 at 10:27
  • @LarsH, It seems that AI could in these examples to aid the examination of scripture and arriving at doctrinal conclusions or examining the wide spectrum of beliefs within Christendom. At this point no one would trust AI to actually do these things all on their own.
    – Austin
    Jul 17 at 10:17
  • @Austin, I agree. Which is why I don't see this answer as being very relevant to the question asked. We use computers to aid in a lot of tasks, but that's very different from having computers take a guiding role in those tasks. Since the OP would see the requested examples as "an adverse step," which Kissinger was "warning" about, it seems clear that the question is about AI taking a guiding role in doctrinal tasks, not just being used to make searching faster. But it could be argued that the question needs clarification.
    – LarsH
    Jul 20 at 18:04
  • Seeing as the answer to the actual question is just No, I thought I'd write about how AI is being used by Christians. I didn't expect to get an accepted answer out of it.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 20 at 23:19
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A recent example of the use of AI to analyse scripture is this paper that applies machine learning handwriting analysis to the dead sea scrolls. They find that two individuals wrote the Great Isaiah Scroll. This demonstrates that these techniques can be used "as a new entry point to access this scribal culture."

The Dead Sea Scrolls are tangible evidence of the Bible’s ancient scribal culture. This study takes an innovative approach to palaeography—the study of ancient handwriting—as a new entry point to access this scribal culture. One of the problems of palaeography is to determine writer identity or difference when the writing style is near uniform. This is exemplified by the Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa). To this end, we use pattern recognition and artificial intelligence techniques to innovate the palaeography of the scrolls and to pioneer the microlevel of individual scribes to open access to the Bible’s ancient scribal culture.

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    – agarza
    Jul 13 at 17:39
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    @curiousdannii, in this case, AI was used to develop techniques for comparing handwriting styles. The comparison was deliberately made by humans using those techniques, specifically trying to determine whether the scroll was written by a single person. A pure AI would be given the manuscript and, of its own accord, report that the scroll was written by two different people without ever being told that this was an attribute to look for. "Did more than one person produce this writing?" vs. "What can you tell me about this scroll?". Jul 14 at 0:32
  • @RayButterworth I do not know what you mean by "a pure AI". Do you have any examples?
    – Dave
    Jul 14 at 6:29
  • @Dave The nerds call this Oracle-type AGI. It's purely hypothetical at the moment.
    – wizzwizz4
    Jul 14 at 12:44
  • @Dave, the question mentions that the AI would be used "to arrive at doctrinal conclusions", which I interpret as an AI that could examine the Bible and supporting lexicons etc. and produce a list of doctrines that must be true. Current technology can't yet do anything like that. What it might be able to do is produce the most convincing argument for why the Trinity doctrine is or is not true. But it would do that by being given the doctrine to start with and then testing various arguments to see which one would make the most current believers change their position. Jul 14 at 13:27
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Although I have been unable to find any documented evidence that artificial intelligence is currently being applied to Christian doctrine, I found a source that makes some interesting points and asks important questions for Christian consideration:

Because AI systems learn from what they see in the world, they are likely to continue those patterns rather than adapt to changing conditions or values. For example, machine learning software that advises court sentencing in the US has been shown to reproduce unfair patterns of racial discrimination. The system was trained on data from biased humans. Likewise, AIs that specialize in language sometimes tend to promote stereotypes demeaning women, since they have learned from a long history of texts in many languages that devalue women’s lives.

Source: https://medium.com/ai-and-christianity/artificial-intelligence-in-christian-thought-and-practice-20ec8635a94f

From there, I found this article, from which I have extracted a small quote:

Christians already shape the uses of AI in justice systems. Early prototypes of surveillance and predictive policing focused on child protection, human trafficking and violence against women, areas of substantial Christian influence. In these areas, many people draw a sharp distinction between victims and perpetrators, categories they hope that AI systems can detect. Given Christian influence, we need theology and practice for a world where human justice is delegated to AI.

How should we understand acts of sin or harm against artificial persons?

What can Christians offer a world that expects machines to predict our moral futures?

As AIs increase the number of people observed and processed in government and for-profit legal systems, how might Christian thought on sin and justice shape them?

How can Christians circumvent or resist algorithmic constraints on religious freedom?

Source: https://medium.com/ai-and-christianity/how-ai-is-shaping-ideas-of-sin-justice-freedom-and-forgiveness-5204457926c5

I can see how artificial intelligence can be of great benefit when it comes to giving access to the Bible and to aid Bible interpreters and teachers. As for applying it to Christian doctrine, I think the jury may still be out....

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Rather than following well defined programming, AI systems work by doing trial-and-error experiments and effectively adjusting their own programming without human intervention. This works by being given a general goal with a way of evaluating it as a single number, and using feedback to decide what improves a result and what makes it worse.

For instance, in social media platforms, AI systems have control over what articles and ads each individual user sees, and how they are presented. Their "goal" is to maximize the number of ad clicks, thereby maximizing company revenues.

The AI will select a few million test cases and try something different. If the results get better, it will then apply that change to all users. If the results get a lot better for some users and a not for others, it will analyze everything it knows about those users to determine what they have in common, how to recognize the type of user for whom the change worked, and apply the change to only that type of user. This all happens without human intervention or oversight.

The AI works entirely with experiments like these, random trial and error tests, and statistical results. Nothing like intelligence or understanding at all is involved: try it and if it helps, keep doing it.

While helping the companies to realize their goal (more money), the results are not necessarily better for anything else.

For instance, people that favour one kind of politics will end up being shown items that support their beliefs and not shown anything that might undermine that belief. Many of the people that favour one thing will be found to favour some other thing too. So everyone that favours the first thing, but not yet the second, will then be introduced to the other thing. UFO people will end up seeing many other conspiracy theory articles; skeptics will end up never seeing articles about things that only might be true.

Rather than the mostly balanced presentation of news that we used to get, the view of the world presented to us is highly biased, supporting our beliefs, making other views seem extremely wrong or rare, and enforcing our belief that anyone else that feels otherwise must have something wrong with them.

This effect is responsible for the extreme polarizations that we see in society today.


But when it comes to applying artificial intelligence to Christian doctrine, it's not at all obvious how that could be done.

AI needs a way of changing what it is doing, and an objective way of comparing two different results as a single number.

In terms of "examination of scripture" and "coming to doctrinal conclusions", the only thing I can think of is if it were already given a specific doctrine and asked to find presentations that increase its believability and convincingness.

The Enlightenment started with essentially philosophical insights spread by a new technology. Our period is moving in the opposite direction. It has generated a potentially dominating technology in search of a guiding philosophy.

We should be concerned about this, but not in the way most people think.

In the 1960s, Professor Marshall McLuhan warned about this in The Medium Is the Massage and other publications. Technological advancements often have side effects that far overshadow the original reason for their development.

In 1900, once every month or so, farm families typically spent a whole day riding their cart into town, loading up on supplies, and returning home. The invention of the automobile and truck was intended to make this process easier and faster: they could now do the whole thing in a couple of hours.

But that's not what happened. Instead they did the two hour trip every week instead of every month. And then several times every week. Meanwhile, teenagers discovered that they could use the vehicle for dating and other purposes. And look at the massive road and highway infrastructure that has developed since then.

In the 1990s, Professor Theodore Kaczynski warned us that any industrial society must inherently suppress human freedom and self-esteem, cannot be corrected by any means, and will continually worsen. (My own summary of this is in A Summary of "Industrial Society and its Future".)

To function effectively, any industrial society must have citizens that follow rules that make its mechanisms work more efficiently. The pressure of society will force individuals to follow society's conventions, and those conventions will be determined by what is best for the technology to operate. We will eventually all become slaves of the machine. Any that don't go along with this will of necessity be removed from society.

A trivial example of this occurs whenever one sits in their car waiting for a red light to change to green, even though there is no conflicting traffic in sight.

These kinds of things are potentially dangerous developments, and we can see evidence of them all around us. But they are simply side effects, not planned by humans, and certainly not by machines.

If AI ever does have a significant effect on Christian doctrine, it will be by accident, collateral damage, not because some human wanted it.

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  • "In the 1990s, Professor Theodore Kaczynski warned us that any industrial society must inherently suppress human freedom and self-esteem, cannot be corrected by any means, and will continually worsen." I'm not sure you want to cite the Unabomber as a reliable source about society's problems! His academic credentials aren't even relevant to the matter, since he was a mathematician.
    – nick012000
    Jul 14 at 4:07
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    @nick012000 says "I'm not sure you want to cite the Unabomber as a reliable source about society's problems!". Actually I do. That he had serious mental problems caused by childhood abuse and brainwashing under the CIA's MK Ultra project should in no way detract from his thesis ("ad hominem" fallacy). That he was willing to do what he did, strictly in order to get his paper to the general public, is an indication of how desperately he believed in its conclusions, and in the one slim chance he saw of saving humanity from this destiny. Jul 14 at 13:34
  • Just because he strongly believed it doesn't mean that he was correct.
    – nick012000
    Jul 14 at 13:53

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