"AI Godbots and Seeing God's Face"
October 18, 2023, 6:00 AM

Franciscan Fractal: “Ai Godbots and Seeing God’s Face”

A commentary on today’s culture through the eyes of St. Francis.

“… You [Moses] shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.” Exodus 33: 21-23

St. Francis, as well as the early church fathers and mothers, lived in a world filled with quiet prayer. The relentless noise of computers, cell phones, copiers, iPads, and televisions were absent. Silence provided time to listen to God and create an inner moral core of caring for others.

With war raging in Ukraine and Russia, and now between Israel and Hamas, we find ourselves overwhelmed by feelings of sorrow, terror, hopelessness, and the digital influences of information and disinformation. Questions arise that require decisions to be made in the context of ethical and moral principles, and processes.

What does it mean to live as a Christian in this time in history? What are “right” actions to take, if any? Is war justified? If so, in what way and under what circumstances? Is the killing of a single person permissible if it means that other people might live? (Think about that one.) Is defending a land justified if it means killing thousands of people? The questions multiply.

Against this backdrop of intense questioning, the world of digital information moves relentlessly on, creating and recreating itself. The digital universe is poised to offer us suggestions as to how we might answer these kinds of questions involving ethics and morality. This is often referred to as artificial intelligence or “ai” (pronounced like the vowels “a” and “i”.

Programs that deal with questions about God and the meaning of life are called “godbots,” or “ai godbots” which stands for “artificial intelligence robots that speak as god.” These “godbots” develop responses to our questions which are taken from billions of pages of information on the Internet. The responses may sound like a human being, although there is no human being involved. It works like a robot. In fact, it is a robot!

One example is “ai Jesus” (www.thejesusai.com) which purports to give answers to life’s questions that Jesus might give us. Simply type in a question. Instantly, Jesus’ alleged answer comes up. Sounds easy enough.

Gulp! Is it that simple? There is something missing here. What happened to the Christian struggle which seeks to discern the face of God? Where is the Christian’s journey in the face of sin? What happens to Christian community where answers are generated without prayer and deep contemplation?

Remember that the Christ is an invitation to a journey, and not a simple answer. For some people, using artificial intelligence is a “fix” for their anxiety and mindless wandering. It is also a way to promote an illusion that there is a “good or definitive answer,” and that answer is derived from the collective minds on the Internet.

For those who watch reruns of Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry, think only of the Borg Collective. The purpose of the Borg, who were half living organisms and half machine, was to achieve a state of “perfection” by assimilating individuals into a single collective mind. There was no individual thought or expression in the collective.

“Ai godbots” are on the verge of creating a new, single, pooled-way of seeing God’s world. And, it is not pretty. As followers of Christ, we find our hope, not only in the words of Scripture, but also in the over 3,000-year history of God’s people becoming a people of God. The mystery of Christ brings us into being one-with-God.

Searching through computer-generated responses are bound to fail. While “ai godbots” can find references to Scripture, tradition, and reason, they cannot provide the experience of sitting with God in contemplation and prayer.

“Ai godbots” miss the ability to remain in SILENCE as God’s Spirit passes by where we, like Moses, witness only God’s back while continuing to seek God’s face.

Prayers and Blessings,

Fr. John