Patricia Shaw is CEO and founder of Beyond Reach, a tech and data ethics, governance and legal consultancy. Earlier this year, she additionally founded the Homo Responsiblis Initiative Think-Tank/Action-Tank in order to raise awareness and mobilize Christians on the topic Artificial Intelligence in the current “Digital Revolution”. EEA´s Operations Manager, Matthias Boehning, met Patricia for an interview, in which she describes blessings and curses of Artificial Intelligence and emphasizes the need for more transparency and the awareness of the intention behind Artificial Intelligence within and outside the church.
What is your background? How did you get in touch with the topic of Artificial Intelligence?
I am not a techie but have worked as an IT lawyer at the forefront of a lot of emerging data driven technologies for the past 20 years. To do this you need to get to grips with both the technical detail as well as the legal impact. This exposed me to a great deal of the inner workings of modelled data, pattern recognition and algorithmic systems which are key components of Artificial Intelligence.
What are the blessings of Artificial Intelligence? What potential for good is there?
Artificial Intelligence poses an opportunity for us to create a fairer and more accessible society, but this depends on how we use it. It has the ability to connect people all over the globe. It has the ability to be used for evangelizing and preaching the gospel in a way that has never been possible before. We can make the gospel more accessible, for example to people with reduced mobility or hearing or sight loss issues. I think, Artificial Intelligence could be used to not solve but alleviate some of the world’s biggest problems. Big examples would be the improvement of agriculture and the distribution of food. Drones can assess fields. Water supply to crops can be automatically managed based on the information fed back from the drone. Smart fridges can help people use their food before the best before date by providing a practical menu with the leftover ingredients in their fridge to minimize wastage. Smart fridges can also order food only from a local shop, which has received its produce based on the data gathered on localized demand patterns of the households the shop serves. As a result, food could be harvested and distributed according to the actual demand. It would reduce waste, have a positive environmental impact, and have the potential to distribute food to other areas where there is need. There is so much potential for good, both in the Christian sphere and further afield.
What are the curses of Artificial Intelligence? What potential for harm is there?
How we use or don’t Artificial Intelligence is key here. I think, the bad falls in two categories: either not using Artificial Intelligence as we should be using it for good outcomes, and thus risking a lost opportunity, or using it for really subversive, dark purposes. In the first category, if we don’t use Artificial Intelligence for good, could we be held morally responsible for the good (lives saved, given greater mobility, dangers averted, etc) that we ought to have done? In the second category, in the same way as it will connect friends and family around the globe, it has the ability to create greater social disparity and injustice by those with malintent. For example, through proliferation of fake news, organizing modern day slavery or live streaming pornographic and abusive content. There are many possibilities to misuse it. I am of course concerned about the potential for indirect discrimination and limitations on the freedom of expression. My biggest concern is about automated decision making, and the potential limitation on human choice and decision making. This poses a risk to our ability to think critically and challenge information, but also could cause unfair outcomes, particularly in relation to accessing financial services, education and health care. A lot of focus is being put on how Artificial Intelligence could be used to help and protect the elderly or those who have specific vulnerabilities. I think this is where we start to see the most potential for harm.
Where does the church stand in terms of tech literacy?
I love technology and I think it can be used for a lot of good and for bad, as we have already discussed. The challenge is the awareness of the church regarding the opportunities and risks. On the one hand, everyone is using technology, be it in church or in wider society. And many users are not really thinking about it deeply. We are mostly using it for time saving, speed and convenience. Social media platforms are being used for a great deal of good, for example for the engagement of congregation members or for marketing or communication purposes. People are even engaging it for pastor recruitment. And to that degree, tech literacy can be quite good. But people often lack the understanding of what’s happening behind the scenes and I don’t think that’s something that’s unique to the church. I think that is of wider society as well. There’s an urgent need for transparency and raising awareness. With transparency it is like getting under the bonnet of your car, looking for the Why and the Wherefore, What is it doing and How is it doing it. The problem with technology is that the outcome doesn’t reflect the intention behind it. For a user of a social media platform the outcome may be to communicate with friends and family all around the world, but the intention behind our use is different. The business models behind it intend to keep us in the tool for as long as possible, to perhaps deprive us of our own attention and our time, because we’ve been absorbed in the tool, all in the name of selling us more goods and services It is therefore very important for us to understand not only what the technology is doing for us, but also what it´s doing to us.
Looking at Artificial Intelligence from a more philosophical perspective, we often find the attitudes towards technology divided into two camps. Those who are comfortable and fully engaged with it, or those who are fearful of it and not being engaged with it at all. I don’t think it is as clear cut as that. There’s is a middle ground which takes into consideration the Why, as well as the blessing and the curse of Artificial Intelligence. Decisions will be being made about you using Artificial Intelligence whether you engage with it or not.