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Is Technology Neutral?

Words of Life / Salvation Army
The Truth Network Radio
May 8, 2022 1:10 am

Is Technology Neutral?

Words of Life / Salvation Army

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May 8, 2022 1:10 am

As we launch this new series, “Discipled by Algorithms” we are joined by author, professor, podcaster, Jason Thacker. We wanted to do a series about the way in which technology is shaping our world views and how this is impacting the church. Jason Thacker serves as the chair of research in technology ethics and director of the research institute at The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He also serves as an instructor of philosophy, ethics, and worldview at Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky.


Series: Discipled by Algorithms

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Hi, this is Bernie Dake. Welcome to the Salvation Army's Words of Life.

Welcome to Words of Life. I'm Bernie Dake. And I'm Cheryl Gillum. Welcome back, Cheryl.

Good to see you, Bernie. Hey, everybody, and welcome to the first episode of a very cool seven-week series, Discipled by Algorithms. Hopefully, this title doesn't go over too many people's heads, but we wanted to do a series about the way in which technology is shaping our worldviews and how this is impacting the church. For this series, Bernie sat down with an expert in this field, Jason Thacker. Jason serves as the Chair of Research in Technology Ethics and Director of the Research Institute at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He also serves as an Instructor of Philosophy, Ethics, and Worldview at Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky. We'll have links to all of his resources and contact info on our website so you can learn more about Jason and purchase his books.

Visit And with that, Bernie, I'll let the two of you take it from here. All right. This is an incredibly exciting time for me because it's the first time that we've had someone such as Jason Thacker joining us on the podcast. And we want to get to know you. We've read some of your writing and our producer thought this is going to be incredible. So Jason, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Yeah. Well, I'm really excited to be here with you guys today. So I work in technology. I work specifically in Christian ethics. I work for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which is the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Commission.

Basically, we talk about all of the things that you're not supposed to talk about at the Thanksgiving dinner table. So religion, politics, social issues, all sorts of different, at times, divisive issues, especially in our modern society today, but doing so from a thoroughly gospel and Christian framework. And so we talk about the nature of Christian ethics specifically getting in for me is kind of nature of technology. How is it forming and shaping us? How should we better think about these tools that are always around us? I mean, within even looking at both of our wrists right now, we both have an Apple watch on. Like technology is always around us, but often we just fail to give critical kind of thinking about the nature of it, what it's doing to us, and then also how to better use it. I'm not sure if I like to refer to it as an Apple watch. I like to refer to it as a reminder to get out of my chair and move around every so often.

I keep getting nagged by it. I love that aspect of technology for sure. Now, Jason, this is the first time we've met and our audience won't know you. I'd love to get to know more about you as a person.

Where did you come from? Do you have a family? Are you married?

All the things. Well, definitely married my wife, Dory. We've been married for eight years in March. So I'm really excited to be able to celebrate that with her. We have two boys, a five year old and a two year old, our three year old Hollis and Porter. They are as rambunctious as they sound, two boys kind of right before school.

So they're a lot of fun. We live in Thompson Station, which is outside of Nashville, Tennessee. I grew up in Nashville.

The headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention is obviously the local church, but the executive committee we're organized a little different than most of the nominations is based out of Nashville, as well as the ethics and religious liberty offices. Went to school at Tennessee, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Go Vols. And went on to do my masters and my doctoral work at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. So you're a seminarian.

I am. And a bit of a nerd. Can I say that?

Yes. I think if anyone who's pursuing a PhD is considered a nerd, no matter what field you're in. So I will gladly take that label. Well, I say that in a fun way because the book that our producer gave me is called The Age of AI, which stands for artificial intelligence. And there's a subtitle that just says artificial intelligence and the future of humanity.

Now that is a deep dive into, you know, my limit of artificial intelligence is being able to tell Siri on my phone to text somebody while I'm driving or Alexa in my house to play some music while we're eating dinner. It is kind of crazy that technology is everywhere. But the fact that you've made an entire publication out of this this study is pretty encouraging because I think there's a lot that we could share with our listeners related to technology and and the positive benefits, but also identifying, of course, that it can be used in a negative way. You talk about technology in itself not being evil. So the question I have for you on behalf of all of our listeners at Words of Life is, is technology neutral in that regard? And see, that's kind of the misnomer. So often when we think about technology, we like to think is it good or bad?

And we just want the answer. And then people will say, no, it's more of a tool. And that tool is neutral. It's just really about the ways we choose to use it. And I think both of them are kind of not really getting at the core of what is technology.

And I think that's one of the most, if not the most important question we can kind of ask in the digital age. And so there are many different ways, especially for more of kind of an ethical and philosophical and even theological look about what is technology. But essentially in the book and kind of in my further work, I talk about the nature of technology is that it is a tool in the sense that we use it, but it also shapes and forms us in very particular ways.

And so it's not neutral in the sense that it has values. So one philosopher will talk about it in the nature of it's a value-laden activity. And what he means by that is that our tools are encouraging us to use them in very particular ways. And I think a good example for the kind of everyday listener is to say there's the old adage, when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So we're familiar with that. And I can attest as a father of a three-year-old and a five-year-old, we had a little toy hammer that they would literally, you would hand it to them and something magical happened. Everything turned into a nail.

My head, my foot, the wall, the brother, didn't matter what it was, we were going to hit it like it was a nail. And there's an ethicist out of Tennessee who talks about it in the nature of when you have a smartphone with a camera, everything looks like a status update. And what he means by that is he's kind of updating that adage to say technology's shaping us, it's forming us, it's encouraging us to use in very, very particular ways. And often we just fail to acknowledge that. So in the book I talk about the nature of technology.

It's not neutral, but it's also not good or bad. And what I mean by that is it's something larger than just the tool in front of us. It exists in an ecosystem and it expands kind of what we think we can do. I'll say in the book, it expands our moral horizons, meaning expands what we think is possible. But really a lot of the modern questions we have about technology are really not new per se.

They're the same age old questions that we've always asked as a people, as humanity, just in light of new opportunities. One of the things that I read that was sort of enlightening and we don't think about technology in itself, isn't evil, but can be used by sinful people for evil purposes. It's a moral in that sense, but it's a catalyst for change and an opportunity for both good and evil.

That's a good word. And I think particularly just, you know, my opinion for Jason Thacker based on my short reading is I'm encouraged to be reminded that not everything that's created and has technological advantages is evil. I just wonder if you have a thought about social media in general as a technology.

I think it's a good illustration, very similar to the printing press actually, is that initially it was created and there was a lot of hype. There was a lot of kind of utopian views of what society was going to look like. We can freely exchange information across, not just across the street, but across the world. We can see things happening in real time that we never knew before.

We can share voices and opinions for all to see, unencumbered by various kind of publications or various authorities or institutions. And in some sense it was good, but I think most of us have kind of come to the realization, especially in the last couple of years, that maybe this wasn't all it cracked up to be. Maybe a lot of those utopian visions were short-sighted, kind of the old Silicon Valley matra is move fast and break things, meaning it's the question of ethics, the question of should we versus can we.

We just said, well, we can do this, so we should. And that's where people of faith, especially as a Christian, we all need to slow down and kind of ask that question of ethics because I think we can look at social media as a prime example of that. While there has been immense good that has come from it, there's also immense evil that's spawned from it, whether it's actually violence or hatred, whether it's spreading misinformation and disinformation conspiracy theories, or even just shaping the way that we view the world around us, where we start to see people as just merely avatars or pieces of data, rather than flesh and sold bodies, and flesh and sold people who are made in the very image of God. And so that's kind of how I wanted to frame up the whole book, is talking about the nature of Christian ethics, which is really summed up in Jesus' words in Matthew 22, where he says, we should love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourself. And that outward focus is very disruptive to a lot of our modern culture that wants to look on the inside.

And saying to look out, to look up to God, and to look out to others, and to love other people as ourself, and that's really the core of the Christian ethic. And it really is the way we should also be approaching a lot of technologies, is how are these technologies causing us to either love God and love others, or to love ourself more? And I think social media is one that can do...

I mean, all technology, but specifically with social media, we see a little of both. And so we need to be discerning and thoughtful about the technologies we use, but also not just rejecting these things as if they're not good in themselves or they can't be used for good. And so you kind of have to take a more detailed and kind of thorough opinion, and slow down a little bit, where technology is always causing us to go faster and faster and faster, to slow down and ask some of these kind of basic questions about, you know, who is God?

If there's a God, if so, what does He like? What does it mean to be human? I think that's actually the most important question we can ask today. And then what is the nature of technology, and how are we to use this technology in the world?

What's our moral responsibility and our calling as image bearers? And that really helps to frame up a lot of these big questions that are being asked about technology, whether it's social media, whether it's artificial intelligence, medical technologies, et cetera, is to slow down and ask some of these basic questions in order to better understand kind of the philosophy or the basis and kind of the way of wisdom and how we approach these tools. Man, we could do a deep dive just on the aspects of social media. Because as we get into that talk, there are obviously algorithms, this fancy word that I've learned over the last several years that take place, but these algorithms just, you know, aren't necessarily just for social media. They're everything we were talking about the watch earlier, you know, as a device that tracks what you're doing and helps remind you to do things where you can set it up to do whatever you'd like, or you're shopping.

If you're someone that's shopping electronically at outlets like Amazon or something, you know, they're tracking what you're buying and sending you reminders if you're, if we haven't seen purchases recently that maybe you should consider. It's a fascinating world. I'm encouraged by these conversations, Jason, because I think that these episodes will appeal to a certain section of our audience that are, will be stimulated by this.

It's healthy conversation. And to our listeners, again, I want to encourage you to consider reading Jason's book, the age of artificial intelligence. It's actually the age of AI.

That's how the cool kids refer to artificial intelligence. It's great. It has a wonderful, deeply Christian ethic behind it.

And I don't think you'd be disappointed. I'm looking forward to talking about this with you more, and we'll see you next week on words of life. The salvation army's mission doing the most good means helping people with material and spiritual needs. You become a part of this mission. Every time you give to the salvation army, visit to offer your support. And we'd love to hear from you email us at radio at Call 1-800-229-9965 or write us at P.O.

Box 29972 Atlanta, Georgia 30359. Tell us how we can help share prayer requests or share your testimony. We would love to use your story on the air. You can also subscribe to our show on iTunes or your favorite podcast store and be sure to give us a rating. Just search for the salvation army's words of life. Follow us on social media for the latest episodes, extended interviews and more. And if you don't have a church home, we invite you to visit your local salvation army worship center. They'll be glad to see you. This is Bernie Dake inviting you to join us next time for the salvation army's words of life.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-22 06:49:46 / 2023-04-22 06:55:47 / 6

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