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The Wondrous/Dreaded Thing Is Arriving – Let’s Be Ready

It is a staple plot line of every sci-fi alien arrival/adventure thriller story that when the dreaded (or seemingly wondrous) thing arrives, the hero is almost – but not quite – ready. Many knowledgeable people are saying we are all in that plot line right now around the arrival and rapid deployment of large language models (LLMs) and their remarkable bot interfaces (let’s call them Chat GPT for short though that is just the best known).

These commentators’ concerns – and their wonder — are manifesting daily on the front pages and lead editorials of our most sober-sided mass journals– the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, the Atlantic, as well as specialty journals and blogs like the MIT Tech Review and Politico’s Technology Newsletter. This is the drumbeat I am reading everyday:

  1. the speed of improved functionality in these bots, for example between GPT3 and 4, is both shocking and wondrous even to AI experts, yet also unexplained by
  2. Equally shocking is the speed and ubiquity of uptake, promising an intellectual revolution with surprising use cases bruited everywhere across a vast spectrum of businesses and nonprofits.
  3. This speed raises concerns for orderly work force accommodation and adaptation without substantial downgrades in job compensation and satisfaction.
  4. The “closed box” body of knowledge on which LLMs were originally trained is now opening to the entire world of digitized knowledge by major business platforms, with little more than a “be careful out there” nod to responsible use.
  5. This is all being driven by enormous, unstoppable forces of capital (e.g., Google, Microsoft, and others in a titanic struggle for shares in search) and geopolitical power (the US, China and other great powers locking into a global economic and military arms race).
  6. The only prediction possible here is that the outcomes are entirely unpredictable.

In the face of this arrival of seemingly high-functioning AI and the rush to apply it, influential commentators like Thomas Friedman, Ezra Klein, and Yuval Harari are saying we should slow adoption and open a rational risk/reward assessment, often including a call for a broad range of societal leaders in the assessment. But how do we do that given all the above?

How is AI&F essential? This is an “all hands on deck” moment for our AI and Faith expert community and the broader ethics world. Many secular leaders see “faith” as a bug of this rapidly changing world, not a feature. But we believe faithful AI professionals and faith leaders knowledgeable about the risks and rewards of this remarkable technology, are among those best able to keep society’s feet on the ground; mitigate threats to our unique human capacity, discernment of truth, and ability to earn a living; and provide hope against the rising fear that we humans are being “left behind.”

No other faith-related organization has our expert community’s reach if we can take full advantage of it. Not only do we unite technology professionals and faith leaders, but we incorporate in our own community key representatives of most of the major faith denominations and organizations working in this area, as well as numerous high profile individual authors and podcasters. Working together, we have a better chance to affect the larger AI ethics conversation by speaking in respectful, robustly pluralist voices, with no faith tradition toning down its faith beliefs, unified in our common contention that faith values of three quarters of the world’s peoples are essential to the debate. That approach has gained us admission as the only overtly faith-oriented partner among the 106 organizations in the global Partnership on AI.

Is AI&F ready? Not quite, but close enough to engage influentially, if we move fast and efficiently. We vitally need – right now – to continue to strengthen our own expert community ties; share our insights and finances; connect with other like-minded partner organizations; and amplify our collective voices into the broader ethics conversation.

We have great resources for this moment:

  • Without a doubt, we have gathered the largest community of knowledgeable AI professionals and faith leaders and partner organizations in the world for this mission, 126 experts in 11 countries and four continents and their related organizations.
  • We have a smart and increasingly efficient volunteer leadership structure in our Editorial, Programs, Networking, and Media Tech Teams and Research Fellows, working with over 80 Advisors.
  • Some of our AI&F experts are at the very top of the corporate and academic teams creating these models and bots. Others, like product strategist Dan Rasmus and academicians Robert Geraci, Noreen Herzfeld, and Don Howard, have been tracking for 25-plus years the factors leading to this moment. Other experts are freshly minted and at the forefront of the moment, like Research Fellow Gretchen Huizinga who recently earned a PhD from the University of Washington with her thesis, “Righteous AI,” drawing on 21 AI&F experts.
  • We are sharing our experts’ knowledge broadly through social media and Newsletter features, and internally through “Brown Bag” discussions, Salons, and Town Halls. Our AI&F experts produce almost two dozen regular podcasts, newsletters, and other media that we seek to promote.
  • Our mission to educate tech creators is being borne out by our multi-year engagement with Faith Employee Resource Groups at tech companies, and to educate faith leaders through our many AI&F experts engaged with key leaders in some of the largest faith denominations and organizations in the world.

What can you personally do right now? Three things will make all the difference at this pivotal moment for AI&F and our shared desire to actively bring ethics and hope from the world’s oldest, best tested, most widely held wisdom to this AI discussion:

  1. Donate a tax-deductible sum of $1,000, $500, $250, or what you can afford through our secure giving page to support our work. We need:
    • $21,000, our base budget to support through year-end our part-time administrator and web publisher;
    • $5,000 for corporate sponsorship of our key national Faith ERG conference panel on HR algorithmic ethics in May;
    • Beyond our base budget, $25,000 would allow us to immediately contract with a part-time coordinator for our operational Teams, leveraging their volunteer time, knowledge, connections, and experience. $50,000 would upgrade that position to a part-time Director, a paid role we must have by year-end.
  2.  If you are working in this area and are faith-oriented, tell our Editorial and Program Team what you are writing, researching, and speaking about, what conferences you are attending, and how you think we together can best speak into this vital ethics debate.
  3. Inquire about joining one of our volunteer Teams. Or if you do not have time or the right skills, introduce our Networking Team to your colleagues who have passion, skills, and time to further our efforts. Our Team will help them find the perfect role.

For everyone, please follow us on social media and subscribe to our digital Newsletter.

Thank you so much for your support and participation in this watershed moment!

David Brenner

David currently serves as the board chair of AI and Faith. For 35 years he practiced law in Seattle and Washington DC, primarily counseling clients and litigating claims related to technology, risk management and insurance. He is a graduate of Stanford University and UC Berkeley’s Law School.

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