R2D2 and Friends


It is unclear what might qualify as a “cute” robot, but R2D2 from Star Wars fame would come close for most people. This genderless (although the other characters spoke of “him”), short robot seemed reasonable, brave, and even compassionate. It seemed to be, well, almost human.

I suspect that I am not alone in feeling nearly overwhelmed by the computer-based technology surrounding me these days. This used to be the stuff of science fiction, but it has now become an expected and fundamental part of our lives. In the newspaper comic strips when I was a boy, Detective Dick Tracy had a wristwatch that allowed him to communicate visually and auditorily with his partners. Move over, Dick. Now many people have these watches.

Trying to count the number of computers that you and I interface with somehow during even one day would be impressive. In our homes, cars, offices, and in our pockets and purses, we are surrounded.

What is particularly fascinating to me is that very few of us (including me) have absolutely any idea how computers work. They have become tools for us and, if they do not lead us astray because of something dumb we have entered, we live happily in ignorance about them.

A historical question for us, however, still exists. Just how smart, really, are computers? In 1997 the Deep Blue computer by IBM played multiple chess games against an expert human player and the computer won more than it lost. That was over 25 years ago, and computing power is clearly much greater now. 

On my nearby office bookshelf sits a Dictionary of Biological Terms. My parents gave it to me when I was a senior in college and heading off to graduate school. It was invaluable to me for years and was accompanied by the Roget’s Thesaurus from my grandmother. My discipline required learning the appropriate language and how to use it. Several years ago, I realized that I have quit reaching for those word books. Instead, I Google an unknown word or concept. “Google” has become a verb for us. My personal computer and its connections with computers worldwide have made my book library take a distant second place.

We have grown to expect our computers to finish an address or sentence; it seems to know what we are trying to say. Computers at Amazon and other businesses make suggestions for purchase since they recognize our past spending. We retain the power to overrule the completions or suggestions, but often the computer is exactly foretelling our direction. 

On our popular level, the latest entry for our consideration is ChatGPT-3. Late last fall the company OpenAI released this for total novices such as you and me. This drags us into some initials that are useful. “AI” stands for “Artificial Intelligence.” “GPT” is short for “Generative Pretrained Transformer.” Chat is just the word we use for conversation.

The basic idea is that this is a massive computer program designed to understand and generate natural human language that responds to you. It is a form of artificial intelligence. In practice, one can type in requests and the program will respond with an output that is incredibly accurate and reasonable. For instance, if I asked, “Prepare an essay of 1,000 words explaining the conflict between Russia and Ukraine,” it would produce the document within 30 seconds. Not knowing its origin, a reader would easily believe it had been written by a human. If I were to ask it to clarify or expand a certain sentence, it would do so. Apparently, the program has been loaded with a tremendous amount of information.

It is not perfect, however. It does not know me personally. Faced with responding to some personal request, it might well make something up, perhaps even lie. These chatbots do not have wisdom nor are they necessarily ethical.

To say this phenomenon has been of spectacular interest in the education world would be an understatement. What does this mean for a student assignment to write an essay or take an out of class exam? 

What use could QAnon , the Proud Boys, or any other misinformation/disinformation group make of this ability? 

Artificial Intelligence is now a part of our world as followers of God. As usual, we need to pray for discernment. How can this be used for God’s purposes?  

Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain


  • I don’t know how long it takes for our body of knowledge to double now but it has rapidly decreased in recent times. My mind is not faster than a computer but has more logic, currently that is.


  • I understand the value of technology and appreciate many advances it has made in our world; however, I confess that I fear AI’s role in the future.


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