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What Are Algorithms?

Words of Life / Salvation Army
The Truth Network Radio
May 15, 2022 1:11 am

What Are Algorithms?

Words of Life / Salvation Army

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May 15, 2022 1:11 am

Last week we began a new, 7-week series about technology and the church called, “Discipled by Algorithms”. Throughout this series we are joined by professor, author, podcaster- Jason Thacker.

Last week Bernie and Jason discussed the question, “Is technology neutral”. And this week, Jason is going to break down what algorithms are and how we interact with them daily.


Series: Discipled by Algorithms

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

Welcome back to Words of Life. I'm Bernie Dake. And I'm Cheryl Gillum. Last week, we began a new seven-week series about technology in the Church called Discipled by Algorithms. Throughout this series, we are joined by professor, author, podcaster, Jason Thacker. This week, Jason is going to break down what algorithms are and how we interact with them on a daily basis. Well, welcome back to Jason Thacker, our guest for this series. And I want to say right off the bat, I've been given a book by our producer called The Age of AI by Jason, and it is awesome. Now, full disclosure, I haven't finished it yet, but I'm so encouraged by the conversation.

And that's why Jason's here for this series. Welcome back. I'm really glad to be with you guys. We are glad you're here. All the way from Nashville, Tennessee, which for some of our international listeners is usually referred to as the country music capital of the United States.

But at the end of the day, it's become a music center for the United States. But that's not your gifting. No, it's not. Jason's very involved with the Southern Baptist Convention.

And if you could tell, just recap real quick what you do with them. Yeah. So for the ERLC or the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, I oversee all of our Christian ethics in our research. So whether it's for marriage and sexuality over to justice issues, international issues, religious liberty issues, and then one of my focus areas specifically is technology that really doesn't fit in a specific category because we live in a technological society. So every aspect of our life really is affected by artificial intelligence or affected by some form of technology. So it's kind of a more all encompassing type of focus for us.

But I oversee all of our ethics research and focusing on some of the biggest issues of the day. One of the words that gets tossed around with technology may or may not actually be something that people understand. This word that I'm speaking of is algorithms.

And I say, go. How would you define that to our listeners? I think for most people when they hear the algorithm, it's always in the definite of the algorithm as if there's just one that's controlling all of these various things. There are numerous algorithms, hundreds and millions of different algorithms that do very specific things. So in the book, I'll talk about is the fact of narrow AI in the sense that there are many forms of AI that have been dreamed up. The only one that we have is what's called narrow and that's very specific. So Siri on our devices is a form of narrow AI.

It takes our speech and translates it into text. We have things like a thermostat that's very narrow in its application where it's a smart thermostat. So so many of these AI devices are really just smart devices. So smart phones, smart appliances, smart everything these days, smart cars even. Is that like the Internet of Things?

Yeah, the Internet of Things. So everything is connected to the Internet and it can learn over time. So my thermostat can decide, you know, in the mornings, he normally turns it up a little bit. So it's not as cold.

We like to sleep when it's cold at home. And one of the things is it'll automatically turn that up in the morning. Well, that automation or that automatic behavior or change is driven by an algorithm. But so is our social media feeds. So are the Netflix queue or our browsing history.

Everything that we have is kind of we live in an increasingly curated age, which can have a lot of devastating consequences in terms of isolating us or just exposing us to one particular perspective or view that can in many ways lead us into kind of these cultural bubbles or these cultural enclaves where we don't realize or see kind of other perspectives on some of the most important issues of the day. So, Jason, I'm a few years older than you. I've been around any of our listeners know that I'm kind of a child at heart. And it was interesting to me that even just referring to your thermostat, you've assigned a pronoun like as it's a member of your family. Oh yeah. When he senses that I'm awake, I just think that's interesting because technology really has become part of the family.

It's part of our, I don't want to say our fiber, but it's everywhere we exist. Well, and that's a very particular thing with my sons. This is interesting, especially for younger generations. I remember a day before these technologies. Of course.

My children won't. So they're growing up with a HomePod or a Siri HomePod and they talk to Siri all the time in the sense of Siri, play this, Siri do this. And I'm nervous to even say that on a podcast because someone else's device or one of our devices might wake up and start texting someone or playing music or what have you. But we live kind of surrounded by these technologies, whether it's Alexa or Google or Apple or what have you is these devices are all throughout our homes. They're all throughout our offices, really even throughout our cars and our, and always on us.

Yeah. I wake up and I pick up my phone almost immediately or I put on my Apple watch and it's always there with me. And so really in some sense we are always being listened to in some sense because you have these devices are listening for that special word and I won't say it because naturally everyone's devices will wake up. But these things is we're surrounded and kind of inundated by technology, specifically artificial intelligence. And often we just haven't taken the time to slow down and think about it, about the nature of these tools, how they're shaping and forming us, not just internally, but also the way that we view God, the way that we view other people as image bearers.

And it's shifting, radically shifting the way that even the church says ministry in this digital age. And so that's one of the things in my hope with writing the book was to cause people to slow down a little bit and to ask some of these difficult kind of big questions in order to better understand the nature of this age and the culture around us ultimately so that we can going back to Jesus' words of loving God and loving our neighbors or self. This is a quote from Jason's book, The Age of AI. Whether we realize it or not, algorithms are discipling each of us in very particular ways. Give me some examples of how you see technology or algorithms at use in society.

I think a lot of listeners when they hear the word of these technologies or algorithms discipling us seems a little strong. And what I mean by that is that it's shaping and forming us in particular ways. So discipleship, when we typically think of it, especially within the church, is that we're disciples of Christ. We're becoming more like Christ. Well, one of the ways that technology is, it's not always pointing us and shaping us in godly ways. It can be shaping us in deeply ungodly ways or selfish and prideful and arrogant ways where we focus on ourself. And so these tools are really shaping or discipling us. They're forming us.

And I like to talk about it especially in the nature of technology in the sense that it's always with us. So for those who attend church or are a member of a local church, you might gather together on Sunday morning for an hour or two, depending on how long your pastor goes. If you're more traditional, you might have a Sunday night or a Wednesday night gathering. Maybe you have a small group that meets once or twice. Maybe you have some friends that come over.

And then you add on top of that the nature of Bible study and prayer, like individual kind of devotional time, you might get up to 15 or 20 hours a week maybe, and that's pretty generous to be honest. What's with us all the time 24-7? It's our technology. It's our devices. It's always with us. We spend obscene amount of hours sometimes kind of engaged in entertainment or on these devices where I get that dreaded notification on Sunday morning, probably like most of us, that your screen time was up so many percentage this week. And you're like, get behind me, Satan. I know that I spent too much time.

I don't need a reminder of it on Sunday mornings. And so that's the nature is that it's shaping, it's forming us. It's shaping the way that we view God, the way we view ourselves as what does it mean to be human, and even shaping the way that we view those around us, including the world. And that's why I say when we get back to when we're talking about AI or artificial intelligence technology, some of the most important questions that seem disconnected is who is God and what is He like?

And then what does it mean to be human? That seems really disconnected because we naturally wanna go right to the solution. But what we need to do is ask some of these bigger questions because that helps us to get to better solutions and better ways to think about the tools and how they're discipling and shaping and forming us when we ask some of these more fundamental questions.

Let me ask you an example. If we talk about social media, that was a popular thing that came up in the last episode. If I align with a particular worldview or I'm interacting with posts, how do algorithms play a role in enforcing my view as if it's correct? Now, and this isn't just true in certain platforms that are known to be a little bit more divisive or politically driven. So whether it's Twitter, whether it's Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, it really doesn't matter, they're all using algorithms. And that algorithm is collecting massive amounts of data on you, not just about your profile picture and the words and the bio we put or not just the things that we retweet or share or post or share on Instagram reels, et cetera, but also the things that we engage with, the things that we may passively engage with, how long our eyesight kind of glances at something, how long we pause on something, even tying in sometimes our browser history, the things we've searched for, the things we've looked for, the things we've purchased in the past, building in many ways kind of a profile. And what these platforms do is we often think that these platforms are free and they are in the sense that we don't monetarily contribute to them. What we do is often we don't read them, but the terms and conditions or terms of service, we just flip through those things as quick as possible. And even if you try to read them though on the side, it's so full of legal jargon that it's almost impossible to understand.

But we immediately click agree and move on. But these tools, these especially these algorithms are using these points of data and the stuff that's been collected on us to market to us. So naturally everything we do online in some sense, it's not free in the sense, it's free in the sense that we don't monetarily contribute, but it's not free in the sense that we are giving these companies something. We're giving them data and in turn they distill that into a prediction or saying, you know, you can reach 25 to 34 year old men on this demographic in this age who are interested in X, Y, and Z in order to market to them. And that's how they make money. These platforms cost immense amounts of money to produce and to maintain and to market. And the way they're doing that is through advertising. And so that's really, I think one of the ways that algorithms we don't, we're starting to talk about is the way that it's shaping the things we view because they're intentionally trying to keep you on the platform longer. So maybe exposing you to more and more intense content or content that it thinks you will like in order to keep you longer in order for you to see more ads and the more ads you see, the more money you spend. And it's kind of this cycle that continually in many ways spins out of control.

Right. And I think many of us, especially in the last year or so are waking up to the fact that it's not just these big tech companies. I don't love that language because some of the biggest tech companies aren't included. Some of the smallest like Twitter are included in big tech. But the idea is that the technology industry weighs or has an immense amount of influence over the things we see, the things that we experience and even some of the things we do. But we often just don't take time to slow down and ask those really hard questions and to think about it, about how these technologies are shaping and discipling us.

Yeah. I do want to applaud. There are companies out there that are making technology in ways that are useful to Christians. And for instance, you know, probably, I hope that if someone were to look at my screen time, they'd see that my Bible app is open multiple times throughout the day, or I'm constantly referring to it, looking for a scripture, which also enables me to highlight things and make notes. And just like I would have in the printed form of, of that sacred text, you know, so there are, there's so much good out there and there's so much information that we could be learning from your experience and, and honestly, Jason, we're just so glad that you're with us for this series. I hope that our listeners will check out Jason Thacker's, the age of AI. You can find it anywhere you can buy books. Is there an audio book yet? There is an audio book. You can get it on Audible. You can get it on Check it out.

Technology at its finest. So listen, we hope that you'll come back and join us for the next episode until then. God bless you. 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.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-18 12:12:00 / 2023-04-18 12:18:12 / 6

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