“We Must Slow Down the Race to God-like AI.” Ian Hogarth gives a sobering assessment of the unpredictable ramifications of AGI: “I thought about my four-year-old who would wake up in a few hours. As I considered the world he might grow up in, I gradually shifted from shock to anger. It felt deeply wrong that consequential decisions potentially affecting every life on Earth could be made by a small group of private companies without democratic oversight. Did the people racing to build the first real AGI have a plan to slow down and let the rest of the world have a say in what they were doing? And when I say they, I really mean we, because I am part of this community.” It may be deeply wrong, but there have been too many such decisions in human history. I deal with this moral problem in a chapter on humility in Virtues of Renewal: “Because of our technological power and our interconnected lives, seemingly innocent acts have lasting consequences. Berry explains that ‘past a certain scale, as C. S. Lewis wrote, the person who makes a technological choice does not choose for himself alone, but for others; past a certain scale, he chooses for all others.’” Needless to say, the kind of humility that Berry enjoins appears to be relatively scarce amid the boardrooms at OpenAI and other leading AI research companies.
“The Neon God.” Paul Kingsnorth enumerates the human costs of mediating religious life through screens and algorithms: “There is no getting away from any of this. The Machine is our new god, and our society is being constructed around its worship. But what of those who will not follow? How would we withdraw our consent? Could we? What would a refusal to worship look like – and what would be the price?”
“An Antidote to Christian Celebrity.” Andy Stanton-Henry commends lives of hidden faithfulness and suggests the need “to make a distinction between holiness as a life of hiding from and hiding for. It’s possible to remove ourselves from positions or opportunities for public ministry because we are hiding from the responsibility and vulnerability that they bring. This is fear, not faithfulness. But it’s also possible to remove ourselves from public view as a way of hiding for the integrity of our faith and actions.”
“Media Contagion.” If “the news is making us all miserable,” Steve Salerno asks, why do we obsess over it? And he probes the consequences of that obsession: “Today’s 24/7 news cycle is, by its nature, a saturation ad campaign for the zeitgeist, the world in which we supposedly live. This is particularly noticeable in coverage of major themes like crime, race, and politics, which is brassy and unrelenting and helps to cement our perception of Truth.” (Recommended by Aaron Weinacht.)
“The Conservative Christian Case for Single-Payer Healthcare.” Matthew Loftus makes a philosophical case for single-payer healthcare: “A healthcare system that acknowledges its limits deserves to be funded by a state that admits it can only be a small part of human flourishing.”
“Social Inventions and the Cultivation of Character.” Luke C. Sheahan draws on Robert Nisbet to argue for the essential goods of rich associational life: “Leadership that emerges out of the fateful combination of malaise in the middle and passion at the extremes is unlikely to come from politics and policy. What we are talking about is a question of character. In the shaping of character, we must turn to the social rather than political realm.”
“AP Courses were Supposed to Encourage Learning. Why Didn’t that Work?” David Perry reviews Shortchanged in which Annie Abrams concludes that “almost nothing of [the] original vision [for AP courses] remains. Instead, she argues, we get tests that neither measure the quality of the student’s high school education nor stand in for introductory level college courses. They have become, she writes, just a ‘regime of profitable standardized tests disproportionately affecting public school students attending public universities.’ Students don’t learn to love reading. They don’t learn to love history. And, she argues, they don’t become the kinds of citizens that we need in this turbulent time.”
“Kentucky Supreme Court Rules Controversial Castleman Statue was Improperly Removed from Cherokee Triangle.” Porchers may remember Katherine Dalton’s essay in the spring 2021 issue of Local Culture that discussed this statue. Jason Riley reports on the recent ruling and what this means for the statue’s fate.
“This River Contains Grace.” Derek W. Taylor describes how a river invited him to learn how to be a creature: “Fly-fishing has immersed me in this learning. I believe it is a spiritual practice, one that draws me deeper into the material world of creation. It has aroused within me a desire to relearn what Rowan Williams calls ‘the art of creaturely life.’ I’ll admit, of course, that you don’t need to be a fly-fisher to learn this art. You don’t even need to be outdoorsy. You just need to be a creature. Since you are a creature, you can be certain your life is entangled in the web of God’s life-sustaining love.”
“Telling the Story of Kansas’ Most Deadly Tornado, 70 Years Later.” Olivia Weeks interviews Jim Minick about his forthcoming book on the deadliest tornado in Kanasas history. What did Minick learn about the small town that rebuilt? “Resilience. And good leadership. People are incredibly strong. The cemetery is right at the edge of town, and often workers had to stop their hauling away of the rubble to stand and watch a hearse travel through the just-cleared streets. The burying of the dead happened often at the same time as the rebuilding. Also, leadership or lack thereof, is so integral to a small town’s survival.”
“Faith, Hope, and Love in Eugene Vodolazkin’s Brisbane.” Nadya Williams reflects on what she gleaned from reading all of Eugene Vodolazkin’s novels in recent months, concluding with Brisbane: “It is a minor character in the novel, Vera, the musically brilliant but dying teenage daughter of Gleb’s love interest from school, who is the key for understanding what I think is both Gleb’s and Vodolazkin’s own yearning. It is a yearning for God, for faith in something greater—something that the Soviet state was determined to replace with its own grandiosity, but obviously failed. For man-made structures, all the great empires of the world, try as they might, cannot replace the maker of the universe.”
“You Have Permission to Be a Smartphone Skeptic.” Clare Coffey applies common sense to smart phones: “As useful as the statistical correlations in the detractors’ learned studies are, they are not conclusive in either direction, and we should not wait for the replication crisis in the social sciences to resolve itself before we consider the question of whether the naysayers are on to something. And normal powers of observation and imagination should be sufficient to make us at least wary of smartphones.”