Recent, Kai-Fu Lee wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times titled, “The Real Threat of Artificial Intelligence.” It’s an interesting piece because it names the types of job likely to be lost as A.I. continues its rapid development. My limited experience with A.I., in the form of learning the Python programming language, leads me to agree with Kai-Fu Lee about the coming changes. Robotics in US manufacturing is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of changing employment and potential job losses. What A.I. represents is a far more sweeping change.
As a scholar of religion interested in Bible and government, I have three initial responses to the changes A.I. may bring about. First, are we seeing the emergence of a new governing rationality? This is a rather precise and philosophical question. What I mean is, what is the meta-idea governing human behavior (including governments, institutions, policies, and the like) that is made possible because of A.I. and digital technologies? My colleague at the University of Denver, Dr. Thomas Nail, recently told me some philosophers are discussing whether or not information represents a new governing idea in Western society (following after the ideas of sovereignty, discipline, and biopower, at least as Michel Foucault identified these ideas). Does information amass and coordinate a host of other technologies and processes that shape institutions, architecture, personal behaviors? This is an interesting suggestion. Perhaps it helps us gain some critical, analytical perspective on the world today and how it is changing.
Second, what are the employment possibilities yet to emerge in this digital age? Jobs will be lost, replaced by computers using A.I., but what else will be needed in the future? Kai-Fu Lee points to “service jobs of love,” and this seems quite reasonable. Human interaction requires, well, humans. But beyond that, I suspect most cannot yet really predict with confidence what sorts of jobs will be needed going forward. It’s rather like ancient Israel’s requests for the introduction of kingship (e.g., 1 Sam 8). Did those who asked for this political institution know all the administrative and other positions that would be necessary for the kingship to operate, or could they predict how it would transform society and how people understand themselves and others. I suspect not (biblical texts that warn against sovereignty are not helpful here, since they were written after the rise of the monarchy). Beyond this, how do religion scholars and people who understand themselves as religious or people of faith respond to these changes? For example, should they advocate for universal health care in the US in order to eliminate concerns about where and how people get medical care? Wouldn’t this be a way of attending to the widow, orphan, and poor, as called for so many times in the Bible?
Finally, if Kai-Fu Lee is correct in suggesting those countries and economies that are not centers of A.I. (i.e., not China or the US) could end up becoming economically dependent on China or the US, what sort of governing international structure is this? The book of Deuteronomy is widely-acknowledged by biblical scholars to have the literary form of a suzerainty treaty. These ancient treaties, used in international relations, formalized relations between a dominant and a weaker power. The terms are dictated by the dominant king;the weaker king had little option but to accept them or be deposed.For those people and communities in the US who claim the Bible is authoritative, what will they make of such arrangements if they materialize? This makes the US the suzerain or dominant king, that is, the hated, oppressive party in the relationship, the party opposed to the well-being of the weaker power (at least from the perspective of the biblical writers; cf. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc.). If the Bible is canon, that is, the rule of faith and life, and it speaks to life today, then what does it say about such relationships? How will US Christians, for example, manage their identities as suzerains rather than as the oppressed? Probably quite well, since few will recognize what role the US plays in the world, and because US Christians are so accustomed to identifying with down-trodden Israel (I find this to be the case for both conservatives and liberals). What, then, of the claim to view the Bible as authoritative in some way? What does it mean to say it is authoritative for individuals and communities? In what way is it authoritative? Only insofar as it permits us to justify, theologically, whoever and whatever we are? What sort of governing rationality makes this possible?