How AI is Changing Global Understanding and Cooperation

Introducing Christians to key questions about Artificial Intelligence and its role in society

by J. Nathan Matias, Lydia Manikonda, Scott Hale, and Kenneth Arnold

This post is the second in a series of short introductions to artificial intelligence designed for group discussion in non-technical Christian settings. To follow the series, sign up for our email list, hosted by the Oxford Pastorate.

They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues […] The multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. Acts 2:4–8

At Pentecost when the Spirit first gifted Christians to speak the gospel in many languages, the miracle demonstrated God’s presence with the Church. By revealing His presence through language, God also demonstrated the gospel’s global mission. AIs are commonly used in our time to process and translate language, contributing to global understanding and cooperation. Christians can use AI to continue the work begun at Pentecost, even as we work to be peacemakers in a world where global communications risk making our world more volatile.

AI systems for natural language processing (NLP) are already being used to support real-time translation of church services in multi-ethnic communities. Speech-to-text and text-to-speech systems allow people to dictate messages. Millions of people use machine translation very day. Some organizations have recently tested machine translation as an aid to Bible translators.

This graph about What We Watch shows how videos spread across YouTube trends from country to country.

AI systems and Internet connectivity allow people from diverse locations, backgrounds, faiths, and educations to be in contact with one another. While communications systems and AI can connect Christians in new ways (Matt 28:19), we also need to overcome a tendency to seek out familiar people and information. Online we mostly connect with others similar to ourselves and with ideas that align with our pre-existing beliefs. AIs can reinforce these bubbles by suggesting articles or conversations based on our past behavior rather than expanding our understanding.

AIs like Google and other search engines offer powerful opportunities for cross-cultural understanding, helping us sort through the impossibly vast options in our digitally-connected world. AI-powered collaboration systems can also efficiently coordinate teamwork in large and diverse groups. For example, after natural disasters, crisis mapping volunteers often work to quickly gather, display, and analyse data to enable an effective response by international relief agencies, work that AI systems are already supporting. Yet global communication can also make societal conflict more volatile, and AI may have a role to play in future peacemaking.

Because AIs learn from example, natural language processing systems often reinforce existing inequalities. Traditionally-disadvantaged communities and those who speak minority languages are less likely to have access to digital information in their own language. Many languages lack simple tools like spell-check, let alone AI systems that work with their language.

Questions for Discussion

  • How might Christians work with AI systems to communicate our faith?
  • How can Christians show God’s love and remain open to those in need despite tendencies of AI systems to surround us with familiar, comfortable information?
  • Increased connectivity sometimes exposes extreme views and increases conflict. How can Christians engage with people and ideas as peacemakers?

References

Bolukbasi, T., Chang, K.-W., Zou, J., Saligrama, V., & Kalai, A. (2016). Quantifying and reducing stereotypes in word embeddings. ArXiv Preprint ArXiv:1606.06121.

Do you speak Yalunka? Your computer soon might along with 1000s of other rare languages. (2017, May 9). MIT Technology Review, arXiv Emerging Technology. Retrieved from https://www.technologyreview.com/s/607825/new-software-program-translates-thousands-of-rare-languages/

Hale, S. A. (2014). Global connectivity and multilinguals in the Twitter network. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI ’14, page 833–842, New York. ACM.

Hale, S. A. (2014). Multilinguals and Wikipedia editing. In Proceedings of the 6th Annual ACM Web Science Conference, WebSci ’14, New York. ACM.

Hutson, M., & Pm. (2017, April 13). Even artificial intelligence can acquire biases against race and gender. Science Magazine.

Kornai A (2013) Digital language death. PLOS ONE 8(10): e77056. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0077056

Margetts, H., John, P., Hale, S., & Yasseri, T. (2015). Political turbulence: How social media shape collective action. Princeton University Press.

Matias, J. N. (2012, July 3). Rising Voices: Wiring Offgrid Villages & Preserving Language Online. Retrieved July 11, 2017, from https://summit2012.globalvoices.org/2012/07/rising-voices-wiring-offgrid-villages-preserving-language-online/

Meier, P. (2012). Crisis mapping in action: How open source software and global volunteer networks are changing the world, one map at a time. Journal of Map & Geography Libraries, 8(2), 89–100.

Meier, P. (2016, March 14). A 10 year vision: Future trends in geospatial information management. Retrieved July 11, 2017, from https://irevolutions.org/2016/03/14/future-trends-in-geospatial/

Platt, E. L., Bhargava, R., & Zuckerman, E. (2015, April). The international affiliation network of YouTube trends. In ICWSM(pp. 318–326).

Salganik, M. J., Dodds, P. S., & Watts, D. J. (2006). Experimental study of inequality and unpredictability in an artificial cultural market. Science, 311(5762), 854–856.

Zuckerman, E. (2013). Digital cosmopolitans: Why we think the Internet connects us, why it doesn’t, and how to rewire it. WW Norton & Company