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Hey Google, Is There a God?

In April of 1966, Time magazine set off a firestorm of public debate by publishing a cover story asking the question: “Is God Dead?” But looking back on the 50th anniversary of that article, the magazine pointed out that survey results showed that while a full 97 percent of Americans believed in God in 1966, “… the number has been shrinking ever since. In 2016, Pew found that only 63 percent of Americans believed with absolute certainty.”

But people need somewhere to go for answers to life’s questions and to find a deeper meaning to the mystery of life. Where do they turn today? They are turning more frequently to artificial intelligence in the form of Google, Alexa, and Siri. Who needs God when we’ve got Google?

A.I. is already embedded in our everyday lives: It influences which streets we walk down, which clothes we buy, which articles we read, who we date, and where and how we choose to live. It is … invoked all too often as an otherworldly, almost godlike invention. One tech worker said, “At the end of the day, A.I. is just a lot of math. It’s just a lot, a lot of math. It is intelligence by brute force, and yet it is spoken of as if it were semidivine.”

One of the most influential science fiction stories is “The Last Question” by Isaac Asimov which dramatizes the uncanny relationship between the digital and the divine. These days, the story is usually told in an updated form: A group of scientists create an A.I. system and ask it, “Is there a god?” The A.I. spits out an answer: “Insufficient computing power to determine an answer.” Then they redouble their efforts and spend years improving the A.I.’s capacity. Then they ask again, “Is there a god?” The A.I. responds, “There is now.”

But ultimately in seeking answers from A.I. we need to realize that there is no super intelligent machine crafting the answers to our deepest questions. Instead, the main thing to learn from the New York Times story is that (people) write the scripts for what Google and Amazon’s Alexa and other devices will answer when asked these questions. The algorithm just prioritizes the answers that come up. This is NOT truly artificial intelligence. It is still human programming.

Possible Preaching Angle:

After declaring that God is dead, people turned to the created gods of technology for the answers and the meaning to life that their hungry souls demand. But no satisfaction can be found in the echo chamber of man’s wisdom--“They became futile in their thinking and darkened in their foolish hearts. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools …” (Rom. 1:21-22).

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