Pastor John, I was tinkering around the other day on ChatGPT. And I asked it to spit out a tweet for me about artificial intelligence and Christian joy — and to write it all in your voice. Here’s what it said:
Artificial intelligence may bring new levels of convenience and productivity, but let us not mistake it for true joy. Our ultimate satisfaction can only be found in Christ, who alone can satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts.
Simplistic connections here, but not too bad. It does actually sound like you. But get this. That second sentence, as it’s written — “Our ultimate satisfaction can only be found in Christ, who alone can satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts” — that statement has never appeared in your written works, or anyone’s! It has never appeared online, anywhere, according to Google. From what I can see, it’s an original sentence, which is wild.
As you know, we’re in the early stages of AI, when large datasets can be crunched and synthesized, and computers can essentially spit out what appear to be thoughtful responses to prompts. Your ministry has produced one massive dataset, to put it crudely. And a day is not far off, and maybe is here, when people will be tempted not to go to this podcast or to your sermons or books to hear from you; they will simply prompt for a summary answer to what John Piper might say on a given ethical dilemma or Bible text. And some AI model will spit out a summary response in text, or maybe one day in your own spoken voice or even in a video-generated response that looks like you talking.
It’s all still very early. Much is going to change. But I want your early thoughts here, and to get us there, I want to put one subtopic aside and make one assumption. First, there are legal issues all over this. Let’s put those aside for now. Second, let’s assume, for the sake of today’s episode, that the generated text is actually pretty good and a reasonably accurate representation of what you have said. What’s your first gut instinct here, at the highest level? What would you want the age of computer-generated John Piper AI to hear from you, in your own living voice, about how you want your legacy of works to be viewed in this coming age of AI?
Well, I like that last question; namely, focusing my attention on the highest level, which I’ll try to do. But it’s remarkable that this shows up right now, because just a few weeks ago in the faculty forum at Bethlehem College & Seminary, where I teach and serve as chancellor, the issue of artificial intelligence, and specifically ChatGPT, was part of the planned discussion.
In preparation, one of our professors sent around the results of his request from ChatGPT (which stands for Chat Generative Pre-Trained Transformer, I learned). And he had given the chatbot this instruction: “Write an essay on Augustine’s view of disordered love.” And it produced a four-hundred-word essay, which I read, and which I suppose would get a passing grade in your typical lit class in the university (and for sure in high school), which of course is a great concern for teachers.
And there are (I learned also) plagiarism-detection programs like Turnitin, which claim to be able to spot artificially produced essays at about 99 percent accuracy. So who knows: maybe with the advancing possibilities of cheating, and calling AI productions your own work, there will be equal advances in software to detect that deception. And as you point out, really not just as potential but as realities, there are people right now producing artificial John Piper quotations and artificial John Piper voices, which are close enough to accurate that the average person won’t know the difference.
But your question at this point — thankfully, because I’m no expert — is not about legal issues. It’s not about detection possibilities. It’s about this: What’s your first gut instinct here at the highest level? What would you want the age of computer-generated John Piper AI to hear from you, in order for your own living voice to inform the world of how you want your legacy of works to be viewed in the age of AI?
My gut doesn’t reach out first to my tongue. My gut reaches out first to my mind, where there’s a lot of Bible circulating around, and my gut consults with my mind and says, “Hey, mind, what does the Bible say, or imply, about this?” So, here’s the distillation of my answer to that way you posed the question (really high level).
Right Thinking and Right Rejoicing
The biblical vision of Christian Hedonism really does provide a remarkable framework for responding to artificial intelligence. This was a surprise to me because I haven’t thought about it before. Remember, Christian Hedonism says that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. Now, what that does is elevate the spiritual affections of the human heart to the highest possible level in the unique role that human beings play in the purposes of God in the creation of the world.
“God glorifies himself in the life of humans when those humans understand him truly (in their minds) and rejoice in him duly (in their hearts).”
God created the universe in order to put his glory on display and to communicate himself to his creatures for our understanding and our enjoyment (Psalm 19:1; Isaiah 43:7; Romans 1:19–21; Romans 9:20–23; and on and on). The purpose of God to glorify himself in creation reaches its God-intended climax when human beings not only rightly understand but rightly feel the nature of God’s reality and the preciousness of his fellowship. God glorifies himself in the life of humans when those humans understand him truly (in their minds) and rejoice in him duly (in their hearts). If either of those is missing, mind-understanding or heart-rejoicing, God is not glorified as he ought to be.
And if either of those is missing, the other one is flawed. Right ideas without right rejoicing are barren, mechanical — and yes, you could say artificial. Even in the human mind — not just in the computer — they’re artificial if they are not penetrated with rejoicing duly. Rejoicing without right ideas, on the other hand, is like froth on a drink and not fruit on a vine.
For right thinking to glorify God, it must be attached to right rejoicing in God. And for rejoicing in God to glorify God, it must be rooted in right thinking about God. In other words, the spiritual affections of the human heart are of the essence in the achievement of the purposes of God in creating the world.
Joy of the New Heart
These spiritual affections, the affections of the human heart, will never be the product of computerized data banks. And I say that not only because computers will never be human hearts — that is, they’ll never be created as humans in God’s image. I say it also because, not only are human hearts or souls of another nature from computers and computer language, but (and this is even more significant) the God-glorifying, Christ-exalting human heart is a new creation that is brought into being by a supernatural — not a natural, not a computerized — intervention by the Holy Spirit.
It’s called “new birth,” or “new creation,” or “new person.” The new creation in Christ, the newborn heart, the supernaturally created person, is the only person who can rejoice in God for who he really is. The eyes of the heart have been opened by the Holy Spirit. The spiritual beauty of Christ in the gospel is seen, and the echo of this beauty in the heart is to trust him and rejoice in him and treasure him.
Those God-glorifying affections, spilling over in outward acts of love, are the reason God created the universe. Which means, for ChatGPT, that it is quadruply cut off from God-intended purposes for intelligence.
Quadruply Cut Off
First, it is a kind of intelligence, not affections. But affections are of the essence in living a Christ-exalting, God-glorifying human life.
Second, this so-called intelligence is the product of a machine, not a heart. And the heart is of the essence in living a Christ-exalting, God-glorifying human life.
Third, the causes and defects of this so-called intelligence are all natural, not supernatural. But the Bible makes plain that the merely natural man (and all the more the natural computer) cannot be what humans are created to be; namely, God-glorifying persons.
Fourth, this artificial intelligence is defective in the same way that a natural man is defective. It can rise no higher than the natural, fallen, unregenerate heart of man. Intelligence, as God gave it at first, was designed not only to perceive natural, external reality — and then to assemble it — but also to see in it, to see through it, the reality of the glory of God: the greatness, the beauty, the worth of the infinite Person who created us. When intelligence cannot do this — cannot spiritually discern, see, and feel that glory — it fails in the most important reason that intelligence exists.
So, in answer to the question, I would like the legacy of my works to be viewed as the fruit of a finite, and fallible, and imperfect human mind and human heart that were touched by the supernatural work of God in Christ, and enabled to see the glory of God, and feel something of the worth of God, and reflect for the world the glory of God, for the supernatural enjoyment of as many people as possible.