The Threat of Artificial Intelligence

By James Schacht

We as a society are being confronted with advances in technology that allow for tremendous development of artificial intelligence. In many ways it is just a continuation of Smartphones and other technology that is making our lives easier, and more complicated. Now almost anything can be faked from writing to pictures to pornography. Yes the first use developed extensively allows anyone to be photoshopped into sex scenes. Anyone can be shown to do anything.

Remember the Borg saying “resistance is futile?” That is the message because big tech sees huge profits from AI and virtual reality. 

Quakers are in a position to say “no it isn’t” because of our willingness historically to be unfashionable. If we have the courage. 

Quaker testimonies and traditions profoundly conflict with AI in at least three ways. 

First, at the heart of our beliefs is the value of each person’s Light.  AI will allow people to completely ignore or erase other people. The internet already allows people to live in any bubble they want with information filtered to our biases. Making money is based on giving people what they can be convinced they want, our beliefs are based on loving one another and the world.  Moreover AI will be primarily owned by the rich, who always seek to protect their property at the expense of human life.  Why should they care about people if everything they need can be done by AI and it doesn’t talk back?

Second, our concept of communication and action is that it is between people, that we appeal to the Light in others and seek to hear it. With a computer that is not possible. A poem by a computer expresses no feelings, reflects no experience, provides no glimpse of another soul. Talking to a computer provides no real connection. It’s just words, not communication.

Third, all algorithms by their very nature are discriminatory and reflect the biases of their creators. AI will reinforce every institutional bias and make permanent the lot of minorities and women. A dear Friend defines discrimination as not bothering to listen to someone before reaching any judgement about them. By that definition the shortcuts provided by algorithms discriminate. Type anything and your phone or computer will prompt you to spellings and words to make it easier, so you don’t need to know how to spell or write. You have to work to not be autocorrected. Facial recognition technology does not work right if you face is black or brown. We are increasing funneled into profitable directions that are deemed appropriate by programmers.

We are about the Light in each person, committed to speaking truth to power as well as listening to the powerless, and are committed, I hope, to addressing the institutional biases that demean and limit so many. I believe AI threatens each, and that we need to face the real threat it poses.