GENERATIVE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
AI has been around since the 1950s and is here to stay. That’s why Calvin University’s faculty and staff are devoted to learning and understanding the latest iterations of this technology.
Of all the budding AI tools, professors and students alike attest that Generative Pretrained Technology (ChatGPT) is probably the most widely discussed new AI platform to hit the market in the last year. It generates original language within seconds, writing things such as narratives and poems with minimal human input.
Public reactions to this widely-accessible form of AI are mixed, with some lauding it and others predicting the end of education (and even the human race) as we know it. But Paige takes a more measured approach.“Once we shift our thinking and remove the curtain of fear surrounding [new developments in] AI, we realize that many forms of previous technology have allowed us to do a lot of good in faster, more meaningful ways.”
Airplanes are one example of this. When they were invented, they allowed missionaries and aid workers to get humanitarian assistance, along with God’s word, into the hands and hearts of remote populations much quicker.
Paige insists ChatGPT is a tool that could allow humans to communicate in groundbreaking ways. “We could ask it to write a new hymn or even a prayer for us, using it as a sort of prayer aid—and it would! Of course, we know it can’t pray for us. Prayer is an intimate act. ChatGPT can simply offer faith-filled people a tool they can use to deepen their relationship with God.”
The challenge of equipping students to be Christ’s agents of renewal in all facets of life, from the classroom to the marketplace to interfacing with the latest technology, is something Calvin professors take seriously. As access to information becomes quicker than ever through the development of AI, our world is entering uncharted moral territory, prompting Calvin faculty and staff to ask how these resources can best be stewarded
That’s why a workshop was held this spring. Faculty and staff were challenged at the forum to think collectively about AI and its implications, asking: What is AI? What are its impacts? How will we respond?
ChatGPT, for example, provides users with a unique quandary—the decision to be honest or deceitful. Users can either copy text generated from a chatbot and pass it off as their own words, or they can practice integrity by using the resource as a research assistant rather than as a writing tool.
As image bearers of a creator God, the act of creating, from writing to visual art, is part of what makes us human. “There’s something about the challenge of laboring to produce one’s own work that forms minds and hearts. When we give that up to a machine, we are giving up something that’s uniquely part of the human experience,” Paige reflected.
A WAY FORWARD
Dr. Derek Schuurman, computer science professor at Calvin, sees the surge of artificial intelligence as an opportunity for discernment to shape the future landscape of technology.
Schuurman expects AI to have a highly disruptive effect on jobs for his students in the near future. Consequently, he is committed to preparing them for the world ahead by defining both the limitations and possibilities of AI. Throughout the computer science curriculum, Schuurman and his colleagues strive to equip students with the tools they need to develop and influence technology in a way that is both skillful and ultimately glorifies God.
Not unlike the philosophers of old, Schuurman often brings his students back to an essential question: What does it mean to be human? He believes understanding the dimensions of this simple, yet weighty question is critical to help students clarify the essential roles of humans and machines.
The growth and potential of decision-making automation have created global unease. Schuurman cites concerns about bias and injustice with AI decision making, along with declining trust amid artificially generated images, text, and “deepfakes.” According to Schuurman, the potential threats of AI requires experts—and budding experts—to discern not only what AI can do, but what we ought to do with AI.
“Christian wisdom,” explains Schuurman, “can inform and guide decisions about the direction of technology. AI is part of the possibilities in creation that we are called to uncover. As a part of creation, AI can, in principle, be directed in God-honoring ways despite the possibility for sinful distortions. It is our job as faculty to equip students to discern responsible and obedient ways to unfold these new technologies. Our hope is that our students and alumni can use their influence to code for shalom,” Schuurman noted.
CENTERING FACULTY-STUDENT RELATIONSHIPS
As faculty equip students with the right skills to face an ever-changing job market, the challenges in the classroom remain. “Faculty members, both practically and philosophically, are trying to discern how much of this changes our pedagogy or teaching techniques,” Paige says.
Despite the gains in technology, for example, current software unfortunately doesn’t allow a professor to fully gauge whether or not a student has utilized ChatGPT to write a paper. Instead, Paige reflects, its availability challenges professors to know their students well.
“Our faculty are really good at this. They know their students. They have built relationships with them. And, if you know your students, you know their voice, you see their heart, and you recognize the work of their hands,” Paige says.
Additionally, the lessons in character development posed by AI allow students to come face-to-face with the moral and spiritual implications of their decisions, requiring them to check the intentions of their hearts.
The hard work of understanding this great new frontier has just begun, but Calvin is poised to speak into the conversation as faculty and staff lean into these technological advancements while shaping hearts and minds for Christ. Paige concluded, “For nearly 150 years, Calvin has historically led the way in a host of fields. We will continue to serve as trailblazers in this area as the technology unfolds.”