Sunday, July 28, 2019

Rewriting the search of history

Last year, Henry Kissinger described how he was captivated by a conference session on artificial intelligence. He subsequently organized additional dialogue and discussion to better understand “the impact on history of self-learning machines.”

The historian first describes the past:
Heretofore, the technological advance that most altered the course of modern history was the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, which allowed the search for empirical knowledge to supplant liturgical doctrine, and the Age of Reason to gradually supersede the Age of Religion. Individual insight and scientific knowledge replaced faith as the principal criterion of human consciousness. Information was stored and systematized in expanding libraries. The Age of Reason originated the thoughts and actions that shaped the contemporary world order.
There are several things here to address.

The first major accomplishment of the printing press was the printing of the Bible. The publishing of the entire Bible in a single volume and in large quantities laid the groundwork for the Protestant Reformation. While this may have supplanted liturgical doctrine in the Catholic Church, the proliferation of the Scriptures put more people in direct contact with the Word of God than ever before.

Robert Merton argued science arose precisely because of the Reformation. The values one develops from knowing God motivate learning. A renewed Age of the Word of God gave purpose—a reason—for scientific discovery.

Kissinger misses this, and instead concludes, “The Enlightenment started with essentially philosophical insights spread by a new technology.” He essentially replaces God with technology. Technology is his new god. This is a mistake because God is still God no matter what new technology spreads.

(Replacing God with technology is not new either. The invention of bricks in Genesis 11 led people to similarly think they could supercede God. That led to the thousands of languages in the world today.)

Kissinger continued:
But that order is now in upheaval amid a new, even more sweeping technological revolution whose consequences we have failed to fully reckon with, and whose culmination may be a world relying on machines powered by data and algorithms and ungoverned by ethical or philosophical norms.
Algorithms, data, machines, and everything man does are still governed by natural and moral law. No technology is going to change that.
The internet age in which we already live prefigures some of the questions and issues that AI will only make more acute. The Enlightenment sought to submit traditional verities to a liberated, analytic human reason. The internet's purpose is to ratify knowledge through the accumulation and manipulation of ever expanding data. Human cognition loses its personal character. Individuals turn into data, and data become regnant.
He is arguing Truth (“verities”) is no longer something outside of Man that's revealed to him. Instead, it comes from his reason and is established as truth when it's “ratified” through the mass of people on the Internet. (Has he been on Twitter lately?) The more data, the more accurate human knowledge is. Data is king (“regnant”).

If you reduce Truth to nothing more than data, then yes, you'll reduce individuals to nothing more than data, too. If data is your god, then data is your idol. The Scriptures teach those who make idols “become like them” and “so do all who trust in them” (Psalm 115:8).

Jesus said, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Further, he claimed to be Truth incarnate: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

Finding truth in Jesus lifts people up. Finding truth in data reduces people to an idol.

Kissinger explores a data-centered worldview in practice:
Users of the internet emphasize retrieving and manipulating information over contextualizing or conceptualizing its meaning. They rarely interrogate history or philosophy; as a rule, they demand information relevant to their immediate practical needs. In the process, search-engine algorithms acquire the capacity to predict the preferences of individual clients, enabling the algorithms to personalize results and make them available to other parties for political or commercial purposes. Truth becomes relative. Information threatens to overwhelm wisdom.
As we've seen, Truth in this view became relative long before algorithms personalized search results.

He raises a valid point. The more data we acquire from the internet, the more data about ourselves we give away. However, just because there may be a lot of information or data does not necessarily mean wisdom is overwhelmed.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10). If you understand that technology has not changed that, and you trust in Him, then you have nothing to fear from whatever man and his inventions may devise.

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