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Book Review

Masters or Slaves? – Book Review

Masters or Slaves? AI and The Future of Humanity asks a fundamental question in a crucial moment of human civilization. How will AI impact, and finally shape, humanity’s future and, mainly, the humanity of the future? The author’s background and experience in both artificial intelligence and Christian life makes this reading look like navigating troubled waters with a dual rudder towards a unique destination. The author highlights the dangers of AI for human nature and draws on Christian teachings to propose ways to mitigate AI’s negative impact on humanity.

The reading is full of references to both academic and large public sources from various fields, which makes it interesting, diverse, and in the end, challenging both for Christian and non-Christian audiences.  I see this book as a synthesis of the best of what Christian theology can offer to address the worst of AI. It is a leap, a leap of faith that AI can respect and preserve human dignity. At the end of the book, the manifesto is a kind of 10 commandments guide on how humans relate to AI.

This book is contributing to the debate on AI and humanity in three main aspects: 1) it offers a historical perspective of the development of AI and how technological shocks changed societies 2) it proposes a Christian perspective on the dangers of AI for humanity based both on Biblical texts and theological writings, and 3) it offers practical aspects to deal with AI dangers.

I would say that the most interesting aspect in the analysis proposed by the author is the source and the centering of his main argumentation on the Imago Dei, the human being created in the image and resemblance of God, with the main subsequent question of this approach–that of freedom. Hence, the title of the book “Masters or Slaves?”.

The book is composed of twelve chapters, with the first three chapters addressing AI and the problem of the mistaken neutrality of technology. Chapter four is centered on the Imago Dei, which becomes the argumentative anchor of all the other chapters. Chapters 5 to 10 focus on AI risks. The book ends with Chapters 11 and 12, outlining practical steps and propositions for humanity and AI.

The first three chapters set the stage with a historical analysis of AI emergence and development, starting from McCarthy coining the term of AI in 1955 to the recent developments of AI, such as the singularity problem. What  does AI mean for society and the human being at individual and collective levels in terms of its potential implementations, promises, and risks?

The author unveils a direct relationship between the difficulty of defining what intelligence really is and the implications of these definitions on how AI will relate to the human being and ultimately to human nature. The absence of a clear definition of artificial intelligence and consciousness makes this analysis even more complex. It’s like striving to understand reality through a double veil—the effort to define AI forces humanity to reanalyze our understanding of human nature. The stakes are immense as the implementation of AI has a direct impact on this very human nature, changing the way she thinks, lives, and in the end, the way she exists.

This leads the author to propose in Chapter Four a conceptual anchorage of his critique of AI into Imago Dei as a system of reference able to reveal the very impacts of AI on human beings. The risks of AI are analyzed against Imago Dei’s backdrop, more specifically, the divine traits that humans share with God due to being made in the image and resemblance of God. Among these godly traits, the most important one is freedom–freedom to choose and free will. This trait is the one that has the potential to suffer the most from AI.

That’s why the following five chapters, from Chapter 5 to Chapter 10, describe in a meaningful way the implications of choosing convenience and efficiency over freedom. Chapter five presents the challenges of delegating decisional power to algorithms. Hence, the burning question of moral responsibility and who bears it and what this means for the human being.

Another hot topic in AI, that of deepfakes, is addressed in Chapter Six. The author shows the dangers of bonding with the machines: giving robots the same status as human beings and expecting love and affection from these technologies. The threat is significant; it is about a deceitful benefit for humans, where the technology does not necessarily imply progress, and progress is not always good. Chapters seven and eight balance the issues of convenience over freedom and autonomy versus responsibility. They are at the heart of the book’s objective. In these chapters, we see how human data is used to train algorithms that, in turn, will dictate all aspects of human life with costs both at the individual level (see privacy issues) and collective level (see algorithm-based decisions in police, judicial, and welfare systems).

With machines taking over most of the tasks in society, the author analyzes in Chapter Nine the meaning of work in human life and what it means for humans to find themselves in a free labor society due to the generalized digital transformation in all sectors of activities. The Imago Dei serves again as a reference point to understand the role of work in human life. The conclusion is straightforward from a Christian perspective: work is about human dignity and her divine mission to care for the whole creation.

Chapter 10 discusses the dangers of AI and virtual reality, a digital space where humans are more and more present. The consequences of this digital and virtual reality that promise immortality directly impacts real-life existence. The effects are paramount. In other words, this is a new form of idolatry. Christ, the Homo Deus, has already solved this problem: death is no longer a threat to those who welcome Jesus in their lives.

These developments allow the author to propose in the last two chapters a new vision of soul purpose and a Christian manifesto associated with practical steps to preserve human dignity in an AI world. This vision and manifesto are based on a three-level approach centered on the care of personhood through a virtue-based decision-making process. This leads to specific actions to mitigate risks on cognitive abilities, human relationships, moral agency, the meaning of work, the problem of losing reality, the temptation of new idolatry and the very issue of privacy and freedom.

To conclude my take on this book, thanks to the richness of sources and the articulation between AI and humanity with Imago Dei as a system of reference and analysis, this is a powerful text.

Now, there are a couple of aspects that could make this reading more accessible to non-Christians. The author introduces faith in God as a given and the Imago Dei as the primary reference. While I am Christian, and I second this approach, I think more effort is needed to reach a non-Christian audience.

Maybe a reversed analysis could open more doors to reflection to a non-religious audience. Instead of putting Imago Dei at the center of the investigation in analyzing AI risks, it could be offered in the end as a response to inquiries and problems raised by the implementation of AI in society. As a matter of fact, there is a rich non-Christian debate and literature on the dangers of AI for humanity. The author mentions it extensively, but introduces it as a support for his Christian-based argumentation. I would suggest that a reversed approach would better align his Christian-based propositions with the concerns of the general public, not only for Christians.

A second observation concerns an imbalance in analyzing risks and benefits of AI. While the author mentions a couple of times that his objective is to address the risks of AI while recognizing the benefits, the text heavily focuses on the risks and therefore sounds very much like a “prophet du malheur” (misfortune teller) as we say in French. In this sense, the book’s title would be better as “Slaves or Masters” and not “Masters or Slaves”.

I think that a balanced analysis is necessary every time we focus on ubiquitous and unavoidable phenomena. We risk missing essential aspects in the very process of only mitigating the negative impacts. There are two ways to minimize undesirable consequences: by diminishing negative aspects and by increasing the positive ones; both are necessary and complement each other.

I think that the generalization of AI and digital transformation is making people more and more aware of the meaning of life, their own desires and objectives, their capabilities, their role in family, community, and society at large. It is a “prise de conscience” (awareness) that AI offers to humanity in this 21st century, and a chance to reevaluate the value and the meaning of human life at the individual and collective level, a unique opportunity to imagine a humane human society.

Therefore, I encourage the author to write a second book on how the Christian faith may enrich the debate on AI by bringing forward the benefits for human nature. For example, by increasing the value of human and authentic relationships and choosing more meaningful life goals. The presence of AI raises questions that help us better discern what is really serving human nature by lifting the veil from illusions that are already present in our societies. AI sounds to me to be more like the bells of a Sunday morning Divine Liturgy that I used to hear in the monasteries in the Carpathians mountains. A wake-up call to a lucid, and yet, trustful view of the human and of humanity.

Nicoleta Acatrinei, Ph.D.

is an Associate Research Scholar, and Project Manager of TIP (The Integration Profile) in the Faith & Work Initiative at Princeton University’s Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education of Princeton University. Nicoleta started her business career in banking. Her recent work has focused on religion/spiritual-based motivations and behaviors, altruism and our inclination to interact socially, and the significant changes in the workplace as a result of the introduction of AI. Nicoleta is an economist and a theologian and received her Ph.D. in 2014 from the Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration (IDHEAP), Switzerland.

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