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#WhoWeAre: An Interview with Gretchen Huizinga

Today, we feature an interview with AI and Faith board member and research fellow, Gretchen Huizinga. In the past, Gretchen has worked as a teacher, media producer, writer, adjunct professor, qualitative researcher, software product planner, and executive director of a private family foundation. Gretchen recently finished her PhD at the University of Washington. Her dissertation, “Righteous AI: The Christian Voice in the Ethical AI Conversation,” explore voices of faith in the ethical AI space. 


AI and Faith (AIF): Gretchen, what is your role with AIF?

Gretchen Huizinga (GH): I serve on the board of AI and Faith and have been with the organization since 2019. I am also an AI and Faith Research Fellow exploring the Christian voice in the ethical AI conversation. 


AIF: Why are you involved with AIF? 

GH: AI and Faith is the most active and vibrant organization dedicated entirely to bringing spiritual wisdom to a largely secular conversation about AI and the ethical questions surrounding it. In fact, I’m not sure there’s another one! We are intentionally multi-faith, encouraging people of differing religious traditions to join the discussion about AI and its impact on humanity. I appreciate the opportunity to participate in a respectful debate with an incredibly smart and thoughtful group of colleagues who share my concerns on this topic and believe there’s more to life than meets the AI!


AIF: What question about the interactions between AI and Faith do you find most interesting/compelling? 

GH: The question that’s driving much of the debate around artificial intelligence today is, what is human intelligence? In other words, what does it mean to be human? This, of course, is the central question we must answer when trying to build machines that represent artificial versions of us. But for me as a Christian, one of the most interesting or compelling lines of inquiry is exploring the difference among 1) a materialistic understanding of human morality, 2) other religious frameworks for human morality, and 3) the Christian value proposition for human morality. When we look closely, we find the difference is not so much which set of rules we agree or disagree on, but rather a foundational view of how we are inspired, motivated, and empowered to obey any set of rules. Having an accurate working model of ethics has a huge downstream impact on how we make and use AI.


AIF: How does your work at AI & Faith impact your work outside the organization (or vice versa)? 

GH: Right now, the work I’m doing at AI and Faith is directly related to the work I’m doing outside the organization. I spent the last year completing a doctorate at the University of Washington and defended my dissertation, titled Righteous AI: The Christian voice in the Ethical AI conversation, in early June. I then spent the summer writing up a plan for post-doctoral research expanding on the concept. Naturally, the work has resonated with Christians in the field, but it has also been intriguing to non-believers. My hope is to continue research and writing on a variety of themes that came out of my initial study including more on the idea of Righteous AI, as well as a deep dive into a riff on Augustine’s ordinate loves, only focused on intelligence.


AIF: Anything else you’d like to share about your dissertation? Thanks for letting us feature it!

GH: After interviewing 21 Christians in the field of AI, the phrase I landed on, Righteous AI, was an intentional play on the more common Ethical AI. The term is meant to spark a conversation around the attributes of what we’re really aiming for with artificial intelligence and the ethical guardrails we put around it. I explain this in some detail in the Discussion section of my dissertation, but in short, Christianity claims that righteousness is not something we can achieve on our own by following a particular set of ethical principles or laws. While laws are necessary for a just society, only the substitutionary atonement of Jesus can make us righteous in God’s eyes. In gratitude, by faith in Christ then, we respond in loving ways that please God and are beneficial to other humans (see Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Matthew 22:36-40). What that conception of righteousness looks like as makes its way into our machines is my next research question!



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