What In The World Is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT and similar tools that generate text or images are one example of advances in technology that use algorithms built from data rather than being human-handcrafted. You probably have used some of them: Data-generated algorithms can identify faces in photographs, control autonomous vehicles, make medical diagnoses, and detect fraudulent transactions. One effect of this trend is that the technologies become more difficult to understand, even for experts, since the tools are often shaped by deep patterns in the training data that are beyond human perception. They exude something of a magical quality, especially when they are presented with evocative terms like artificial intelligence.

Yet it is important for Christians not to attribute anything magical to unfamiliar technologies. Even without precise expertise in trending technology, we still can develop an informed awareness of the benefits and risks.

For one, technology generated from data is only as good as the data it is generated from. A tool like ChatGPT reflects the attributes of the texts that it is trained on. I gave ChatGPT the prompt, “Explain how the Auburn Affirmation affected the career of J. Gresham Machen.” It responded with a page and a half of text that got the basic facts right and read like an answer on an essay test. But what stood out to me was the uniformly positive terms it used when referring to Machen. He was a “staunch defender of conservative, orthodox Christianity,” to which he had “unwavering commitment,” making a “courageous stand against the Auburn Affirmation” and founding the OPC, “where he could continue to champion conservative Reformed theology.” No doubt readers of New Horizons will be sympathetic to this portrayal. But it is worth asking why ChatGPT would give Machen heroic verbs and adjectives while describing the proponents of the Auburn Affirmation in dry, factual terms. My speculation is that people interested enough in Machen to write about him have tended to be his admirers, and so ChatGPT is imitating the dominant sentiment in material about Machen. But does this pass the shoe-on-the-other-foot test? What would ChatGPT produce if we gave it a prompt for which most of its source material was written by enemies of the gospel?

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Thomas VanDrunen | “Demystifying ChatGPT” | January 2024 Issue of New Horizons


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One comment

  1. Yeah – AI could not drive a car, and it will not automate our society, this is just another Tech hyped stock play. I am sure it will automate some basic computer tasks and repetitive applications, but it is not going to automate our society, and DO NOT ENTRUST anything important to it.

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