“Artificial intelligence seems to be everywhere these days,” writes Noreen Herzfeld in her book The Artifice of Intelligence: Divine and Human Relationship in a Robotic Age.1Noreen Herzfeld, The Artifice of Intelligence: Divine and Human Relationship in a Robotic Age (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2022), 1. Herzfeld’s book attempts to explain the ubiquity of artificial intelligence in our daily lives through our electronic systems to Alexa and Siri. Artificial intelligence (AI) is distinguished between general AI and narrow AI. Artificial General Intelligence attempts to “integrate [different] intelligence systems that can accomplish a wide variety of tasks,” while “narrow AI designates programs that accomplish a specific task in a limited domain.”24-5.

Herzfeld also explores the extent that humans view AI, especially when thinking about the phrase “creating in our image.”39. She does not dispel any attempt of shying away from historical and literary works that describe humans creating in their own image.49. She also moves away from using reason as a means of determining humanity as image-bearers, yet she uplifts Karl Barth’s view that humans are counterpart to God, and that AI is a counterpart to humanity.510-12. Herzfeld applies Barth’s “I am as thou art” schema towards the relationship between humanity and AI. Barth’s four criteria are “look the other in the eye, speak and hear one another, render mutual assistance, and help must be grounded in freedom and offered gladly.”618-20.

Herzfeld explores the concept of AI having bodies, and she goes through several examples. First, she explores the relationship to body and soul, which the latter gives humans their distinction from the rest of creation. She does explore that animals have souls, yet there is no research either refuting or confirming that. What sets humans apart from other creatures is consciousness, yet there is some work being done that explores that animals may have consciousnesses. She builds her argument about the potential relationship between humans and robots, yet she does not fully defend her argument. She notes that robots fail the first part of Barth’s criteria since body language is something a robot cannot comprehend.743.

Herzfeld’s second point is that humans can “speak and hear each other.”850. She mentions the development of smart computers and devices as predicting human responses and behaviors, yet there is no clear communication with devices. An example she uses is Amazon’s Alexa. Alexa’s algorithms are formulated based on a person’s interest, and the more it listens, the more it cultivates items based on your interests. Alexa also tracks locations, actions, and preferences. Her response to this growing noise of AI is silence.968-69. When the world is silent. God speaks.

Chapter 4 “AI, Agency, and Autonomy” is her strongest chapter because that is where the wider conversation is happening. She solidifies her argument that AI is merely a tool used by humans, and there is no real relationship to AI. She highlights the asymmetry of AI with human use, and that AI is a means to an end. AI is used in different sectors of the economy: medicine, farming, engineering, and business.1076-78. Her section, “AI and Agency: Tools, Partners, and Surrogates?” is where she makes her case to why AI is considered a tool. She highlights this through how AI is used in law enforcement and the battlefield.1179-82. She does acknowledge that AI is merely an extension of humanity, and that AI is dependent on humanity.

Her blind spots with AI include how AI have perpetuated racial injustice and implicit bias. She fails to recognize the negative effects AI has within law enforcement. She does also acknowledge that technology is amoral, and that robots are not entirely moral agents. She spends more time on the ethics and moral aspect to war, which is currently debated today. She concludes the chapter by saying that “we must maintain the same individuality and responsibility when we work with our machines.”1296.

By the time Chapter 5 approaches, Herzfeld has made her case why AI are merely extensions of humans, and they will not be equal with humans. She spends chapter 5 exploring whether robots have emotions, which seemed like a waste of space. What made her argument good is that she brought in Evagrius, a desert father who practiced an ascetic version of Christianity. What Evagrius practiced included not displaying any sense of emotion because one could become a slave to their emotions.13110-112. She concludes that AI can never feel emotions like humans do, which she also states that reducing relationship to a machine is idolatry.14126. Herzfeld’s book provides a clear example of how connecting AI to humanity is a futile effort. The relationship between master and tool is asymmetrical, and anything beyond that remains in the realm of speculation. Not much is gathered from the book aside from the fact that the conversation continues. That is one of the saving graces of the book. She did not include how AI has been used to perpetuate implicit bias from law enforcement. She didn’t flesh out a robust anthropology. Her book is ideal for those wanting to begin the conversation or more for those who want to dive deeper.

Thomas Johnston
Thomas Johnston

Thomas Johnston is a fourth-year Master of Divinity student at Trinity Lutheran Seminary at Capital University. Thomas is preparing to depart on internship in the fall in Fort Worth, Texas at Calvary Lutheran Church. He enjoys reading about the integration of science and the Bible, and he also enjoys learning about the history of science and faith in the United States. Thomas is discerning parish ministry and hopes to find avenues of integration of the two disciplines while on internship.

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