At Work

How Should Christian Leaders Approach Technological Progress?

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Any leader – certainly every Christian leader – needs to appreciate the exponential rate of technological change. This will affect you.

Technological Change Is Accelerating

The first twenty years of the 20th century saw more technological progress than all of the 19th century, which experienced more progress than the first eighteen centuries combined. By most measures 2000-2010 gave us more progress than the 20th century. We tend to think in linear extrapolation. The *rate* of technological change is accelerating; it’s not constant.

This exponential technological change has greatly improved the living standards for billions of people worldwide. Solomon in all his wealth did not have indoor plumbing, LED lighting, satellite weather tracking, antibiotics and MRIs, instant telecommunication, or a blog to promote his wisdom to millions. Christians should rejoice and embrace technological breakthroughs in medicine, engineering, communications, and logistics.

Advancements in computing power are breathtakingly fast. Machines can process information 10,000 to a million times faster than people. The self-driving cars Google produces analyze 1GB of data every second.

Mobile phones tap into massive databases and respond to voice questions with ever-increasing sophistication. The iPhone 5 would have been the second-fastest supercomputer on the planet in 1996, and it is already dwarfed by $200 phones that will be released next year. There are similar stories of exponential improvement in miniaturization of devices and sensors.

My prediction is that we will both love and loathe this technological experience.

We will have whole new ways of leveraging information, new business models, and opportunities to create new capabilities and help people.

At the same time we’ll resent “big brother” and what some have called “the end of privacy as we know it.” We will tell nostalgic stories about going to the library and writing notes on 3×5 cards for our research paper, or buying CDs.

The Biggest Reason to Fear Technology?

Many people believe there is a coming “Singularity,” a day when computer intelligence exceeds human intelligence. “It’s inevitable,” they say with awe and not a little fear.

There are two reasons Christian leaders shouldn’t fear a “Singularity” event:

First, the idea that ever-faster computers somehow become self-aware and intelligent is a tremendous atheistic leap of faith. It rivals the idea that life originated in some past event from non-life.

We can (and do) program machines that emulate the patterns of love and self-sacrificial human behavior, and appear to be “thinking,” but this is far short of actual self-awareness and independent intelligence.

Second, God does not communicate with machines. God communicates with people which he has crafted in his own image, not the machines that his image-bearers have created. The Holy Spirit will not whisper to Linux clusters. Jesus issues no still small voice of command to netbots to say, “Follow me.”

We must be wise in the way we steward technology because advanced machines can be leveraged for evil purposes. We must be on our guard. But we need not worry that our loving God will walk with machines and speak with them as his beloved children.

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  • John Steele

    Well said Glenn, its great to send the word of God to so many in less than a microsecond

    blessings to all at IFWE

  • Nice post! There is a lot of fear of the singularity or fear of machines taking all the work and leaving humans with nothing to do. The idea of a singularity grossly underestimates the complexity of the human brain. Atheists and evolutionists have always made that mistake. Anyone familiar with the history of artificial intelligence knows that the brain is so much more complex than any super computer ever developed. Part of that arrogance comes from ignorance of how the brain works.

    As for fear that machines will do all the work, we should embrace it and not fear it. All of the progress made in the past three centuries lifting people out of poverty has come from having machines do most of the work. Achieving a society in which machines do all of the work would require investments of mind boggling amounts and to do that would require us to be extraordinarily wealthy. And that means it will probably never happen. But if it did happen, people would have to work for no more than 15 minutes per week to earn enough for a luxurious lifestyle. We would spend the rest of our time and money on entertaining and educating each other and on health issues. Maybe some of us would spend more time with God.

    • Sid in Missouri

      I like much of what you say, Roger. Your comment about a practically “workless” society where we spend no more than 15 minutes a week earning our living gives me pause. Thinking back to Genesis, one of the first things God did with Man is put him into the Garden of Eden to work it. I don’t think that divinely ordained gift is ever intended to go away.

      We need to work, to create, to expand our knowledge of the universe and grow. Challenges will continue to plague us whether we end up as technologically advanced as the world of Star Trek or even beyond.

      I definitely see technology continuing to reduce physically strenuous and dangerous work activities, which is good since there’s really no reason to pay 50 people with shovels to dig a hole when a backhoe can do it faster, cheaper, and with fewer injuries to frail human flesh.

      As far as spending more time with God, I find it possible (and highly encourage others) to spend time with God while working. Quiet moments in the morning with the Scriptures open are awesome treasures, but I find after about 15 – 20 minutes of reading and reflecting I’m read to “go into the World” and let my thoughts, words, and deeds spread the yeast of the Gospel.

      Thanks for sharing. You gave me some great things to think about.

      • Good points! Keep in mind that the concept of work changed after the fall. Before, Adam didn’t tend the garden to feed himself and Eve because scarcity didn’t exist. It would have been a labor of love, or what we might call a hobby. The curse made work a drudgery and necessary for mere survival. The history of economic progress has been to use animals then then machines to reduce the drudgery so we can get back to the garden and have time for hobby/work.

        Of course, humanity will never reach the place where machines do all the drudgery work unless the vast majority embrace Christ. Poverty and work that is drudgery is God’s wrath against rebellious people.

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