Alexa Does Not Know Me, but God Does!

Alexa Does Not Know Me, but God Does!

“You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.”
Psalm 139:3


“I do not recognize Larry Ashlock” was the humorous end result to a brief conversation I recently had with Amazon’s “Alexa,” a virtual assistant artificial intelligence (AI) technology now popular in homes and businesses. My experience indicates only one of many frequent daily interactions we all have with this type of technology.

Face ID and image recognition, emails, apps, social media, Google search, online banking, as well as driving aids, like route mapping, traffic updates, and weather conditions, have become pervasive to the point of being monotonous! Such forms of AI may have lost their radiant appeal, but neither they nor the next generation of AI gadgetry will be discarded. They are but a proverbial “tip of the technological iceberg” and part of all of our lives.

My social media news-feeds, in fact, began to be filled with articles on the terrors of AI soon after the advent of ChatGPT, a chatbot that can “handle complex tasks like coding software, drafting business proposals and writing fiction.” [1] Such dystopian prognostications remind me of Stephen Hawking’s ominous forecast for this field when he said, “I fear that AI may replace humans altogether. If people design computer viruses, someone will design AI that improves and replicates itself.” [2]
Such speculation lies outside the scope of my aim and expertise today; instead, I choose briefly to consider the benefits and burdens artificial intelligence holds for three perennial global moral concerns: hunger, health, and education - issues at the heart of the Baptist Center.

I also will suggest some steps that Christians may take to navigate in this era of rapid technological change. It may surprise you that there is much that we can and must do to live for Christ in this challenging age! To begin with, stating the all-important meaning of the term “artificial intelligence” helps us to focus on the significance of this wizardry.
What is Artificial Intelligence?
“Artificial Intelligence is the capacity of computers or other machines to exhibit or simulate intelligent behavior; the field of study concerned with this.” [3] There are two broad subcategories for AI, strong and weak, each with a differing aim.

“The goal of building programs that really do have understanding (consciousness, etc.), in the way people do, is called strong AI; the weaker goal, of building programs that demonstrate the same capability but without any claim that they actually possess these attributes, is called weak AI.” [4]

Strong AI, where machines are really indistinguishable from people is, for the foreseeable future, a concern for the “realms of fiction.” [5] Most AI researchers aim for the lesser goal of “weak” (i.e., “General”) artificial intelligence. They aim for computers that have the “range of intellectual capabilities that a person has.” These devices would be able to “converse in natural language, solve problems, reason, and perceive [their] environment at the same level as a typical person.” [6]
Where did AI originate?
Where did AI originate? Some reach back to classical Greece with the story of mythical Hephaestus, the blacksmith of the gods, who had the power to bring metal to life. Others point to James Watt in 16th-century Scotland, who designed the “Governor,” an automatic control system for the steam engines he was building. Still others point to the 18th-century fascination with “automata,” or machines that gave some illusion of life.

However, it was the pre-World War II brilliant, Cambridge student, Albert Turing, whose work led to the invention of the field of AI. His mathematical vision led to the creation of the computer. He postulated in his 1950 paper, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” that computing machines might someday "think."

The actual rubric, "Artificial Intelligence” was coined in a 1955 Rockefeller Foundation workshop proposal by then Dartmouth assistant professor, John McCarthy. [7] Most all who understand the significance of AI know that there are important moral concerns that surround this fast-growing technological field.
Moral Implications on Health, Hunger, and Education
AI Impacts Medicine. AI machine- and “deep-learning” have generated optimism regarding “the enablement of personalized care, better prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment of disease.” [8] Important ethical issues may be raised concerning design requirements, and the suggested embedding of values, like transparency, fairness, and explainability in the design of AI systems. It is important to consider how physicians’ responsibilities change with the implementation of medical AI.

AI offers some benefit, for example, in the area of image-screening, where human error has been prevalent. In some instances, medical AI has been performing as well as or even outperforming expert radiologists and pathologists, when “detecting, classifying, and segmenting tumors in ultrasonography, X-ray imaging, MRI scans, and digitalized microscopy slides.” [9]

AI and Hunger. Artificial intelligence enables agriculturalists to use powerful algorithms and “vast new datasets” to “improve the efficiency and performance of traditional farms.” This technology helps farmers to identify disease and control the outbreak of pests.

It has opened the way for new approaches to farming. Everything from using computer vision to optimize nutrient inputs and increase yields, to choosing the right time to harvest, is involved. AI methods reduce water waste and produce twenty times more food per acre than conventional methods. Along with the benefits, there are causes for concern.

The rapid expansion of AI systems into everyday life during and following COVID-19 opened the way for the exploitation of the most vulnerable, who often have limited computer access and literacy. Rural populations already know the reality of living in a “digital desert,” where access to technology is limited. This reality contributes to what may be termed “engineered inequity.” Human biases, neglect, exclusion, misinformation, and disinformation, all contribute to this phenomenon. [10]

AI and Education. The advent of AI technologies like ChatGPT and Bard make it possible for wider access to educational tools and knowledge. Bard, for example, is free and now may be accessed in 180 nations. The learning opportunities for those who live in nations with limited financial means and digital access are now able to explore an ever-expanding network of information.

Even so, there are some long-standing burdens. Educational barriers have long existed, and AI runs the risk of deepening a divide between the haves and have-nots. There has always been the rich-poor school district debate over the availability of technologies for needy students. AI also makes it possible to perpetuate some of the long-standing biases, due to gender, race and social discrimination via automated scoring systems.

There are also, for example, privacy concerns, where students are exploited due to "face recognition" and "recommender" systems. An excessive amount of personal information is exposed in online platforms. Students and their parents are vulnerable to biases related to languages spoken, racial identity, biographical data, and location. [11]
An Anecdotal Perspective on AI and Education
I will offer some anecdotal perspective. The Baptist Center for Global Concerns values equal access to education. We have provided free access to our Learning Management System (LMS), which enables students to gain access to critical theological training, even when they live in nations that do not have a well-developed technological and digital infrastructure.

We have learned, however, what most American institutions already well know, that giving full and free access to online digital libraries is extremely cost-prohibitive. The problem of resources is compounded by the fact that many of the traditional learning resources in brick-and-mortar libraries for those who live in these “digital deserts” are limited and often outdated.

Furthermore, limited access and existing technological deficiencies also trigger autonomy-related issues. Individuals and group learners have limited resources from which to make learning choices and then to act upon their own interests and values.

Therefore, our organization provides our partners with a wide range of choices they may make, and we strive to fulfill them. They contribute fully in administrative and curriculum design, as well as implementation. Even so, what we attempt to do is limited in its scope and wider impact. All these areas of moral need, whether they are related to health, hunger, or education, call for unified efforts to allay the burdens that AI places upon the technologically disadvantaged.
Intelligent Steps Forward for Christians
We once would sing the hymn, “This is My Father’s World,” and give praise to the living God who creates and enters into relationship with his creatures and creation. I believe that we need regularly to reinsert the song into our worship services. The theological term is “ontology,” which is concerned with “being.” God in Christian belief is “the ultimate reality, the source and sustainer of all there is.” [12]

It is in Him, as Paul says, that we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). This doctrine about God holds implications for our redemption. Without God becoming flesh in Christ, then there would be no basis of salvation for us (John 1:1-18). This truth holds implications for humans relationally, because the church is composed of believers in Christian community. This belief also holds implications for eschatology, because in terms of history, it tells of our eternal destiny.

Thus, Christians believe that God is real and is not discoverable solely by, or limited to, empirical investigation alone. He created humans with the ability to reason and gave to them free will, which runs counter to a universal system of cause and effect.

Therefore, our God, and not machines, holds all things together. He also holds humans accountable for their moral decisions and actions (Colossians 1:15-20). The important questions about "being" should lead us not to ask alone what AI can do, but what role it ought to play in our world. What follows are several ways that Christians may think and act for the good and right when considering AI.

Avoid being overwhelmed by fear. Emotions regarding AI range across a spectrum, from a utopia-gone-wrong anxiety, where there will be great suffering or injustice in the state or society, to an imaginary Shangri-la existence filled with beauty and perfection! One’s worldview will contribute to the conclusions a person will draw about AI.

A Christian worldview will see the benefits that AI presents for the improvement of health, eradication of hunger, and educational rewards. Christians, in contrast, will also give voice in the public square when improper use of AI creates injustice between the haves and the have-nots.

Be wary of claims that AI will eventually solve all of our problems! Faith in technology, termed technicism, will never fully satisfy human need. Our technologies will not rescue us from the “human condition,” nor will they save us. Some even speculate that someday, an AI deity “will actually exist and hopefully do things for us.” [13]

One futurist envisions what has been termed the “rapture of the geeks!” He writes, “We don’t always need real bodies. If we happen to be in a virtual environment, then a virtual body will do just fine.” [14]

These futurists envision a machine-based immortality sometime this century, where humans will be able to upload their brains into a computer and live forever! We must avoid any dependence upon AI that would create such an idol in our hearts (Exodus 20:1-3; Acts 17:16). The scriptures proscribe any expectation of “God-like omnipresence and disembodied perfection” (Psalm 115:1-8). [15]

Address concerns when AI impinges upon the value and worth of human life. Humankind has been created in the image of God and has been assigned stewardship of God’s creation (Genesis 1:26-28). There are estimates that between 9% - 47% of U.S. jobs are at risk of being replaced by AI technologies and computerization. Regardless, most jobs either have already been changed, or will change, significantly due to automation. This term describes “the control and operation of effective action, or work, by mechanical rather than human means.” [16] We must keep things in proper perspective.

There are advantages to AI automation. Artificial intelligence enables an increase in production that can produce goods at a lower cost. It leads to greater efficiency that results in greater wealth for communities and enhancement in services like health, welfare, and education. It also contributes to a reduction in the wasteful use of raw materials and a lower consumption of energy.

There are disadvantages to AI automation. More work may be done remotely, which impacts the communal and socializing benefits of work. Access to new technologies may impact the “have-nots,” who are unable to afford them. Automation may also negatively impact the perception that people have of themselves related to dignity.

It should cause us to think about what it truly means to be human and to have free will. We must ask how we are distinct from our machines. In my view, churches should build more pathways to meaningful community with one another. If the recent pandemic taught churches anything, it was the need for in-touch communities. Sermons and lessons need to develop deeper understanding and application of what our roles are as God’s image-bearers in relationship both to him and to each other.

Choose this day Whom you will serve (Joshua 24;14-15). Do not be duped into following after gods that cannot save you. Animists believe that spirits inhabit inanimate objects. animism may be compared with Japanese Shintoism belief, for example, which accepts all things, including inanimate objects, also as possessors of living spirits. Materialists hold to the belief that the physical world is all there is. This view holds ethical implications for creativity, free will, and human reason. [17] An extreme outcome of such a worldview is that all processes, whether they occur by human effort or occur spontaneously in nature, can be viewed as computation. Friends, God is not a machine, and we are not robots.


I opened this article with the humorous encounter that I had with a form of virtual assistant artificial intelligence. We all laughed when “Alexa” did not know who I was, but the questions of who I am, where I am, what’s wrong with my life, and what is the remedy looms large over my existence. They hover over yours, too! 

Thankfully, our God supplies the answers and gives living direction and meaning to our everyday lives. He is Supreme Intelligence and Being, and in Him we find ultimate meaning. Use the means at your disposal, some of which will include artificial intelligence, to steward God’s creation as you seek to glorify him in your daily life.

Larry C. Ashlock

1. Brian X. Chen, Nico Grant, and Karen Weise, “How Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant Lost the A.I. Race,” New York Times, March 15, 2023.

2. Stephen Hawking. See Wired Online.

3. Abbreviated AI. Mattei, Julien. AI: The New Revolution: A complete guide to understand and use Artificial Intelligence. Kindle Edition.

4. Wooldridge, Michael. A Brief History of Artificial Intelligence (p. 29). Flatiron Books. Kindle Edition.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid., 31.

7. Bill Cope, Mary Kalantzis, & Duane Searsmith, “Artificial intelligence for education: Knowledge and its assessment in AI-enabled learning ecologies” in Educational Philosophy and Theory, 2021, Vol 53, No. 12, 1229-1245.

8. Bioethics, Special Issue: Promises and Challenges of Medical AI, 20 March 2021. Martin Sand, Juan Manuel Durán, Karin Rolanda Jongsma.

9. Bulten, W., Pinckaers, H., van Boven, H., Vink, R., de Bel, T., van Ginneken, B., vanGinneken, B., van der Laak, J., Hulsbergen- van de Kaa, C., & Litjens, G. (2020).

10. “Automated deep-learning system for Gleason grading of prostate cancer using biopsies: A diagnostic study.” The Lancet Oncology, 21(2), 233– 241.

11. See Carnegie Council.

12. See NCBI at National Institutes of Health.

13. Millard Erickson, Christian Theology.

14. Derek C. Schuurman, "Artificial Intelligence: Discerning a Christian Response,” in Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith, Volume 71, Number 2, June 2019.

15. Ibid., Kurzweil as quoted in Schuurman.

16. Ibid., Noble as quoted in Schuurman.

17. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, s.v. "automation."

18. Cf. Matthew Dickerson, The Mind and the Machine.