Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Barbie, Artificial Intelligence and Our Attempts at Solving Problems

Written by: on September 4, 2023

Along with seemingly everyone else, I recently saw the Barbie movie with my sons. There was a comment from the film that called attention to a truth: when we humans try to solve a problem, we frequently create new problems. In the context of the movie, they were talking about patriarchy (and the creation of Barbie herself) but the sentiment has stuck with me as I have been thinking through this week’s discussion of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Wikipedia defines AI as: “the ability of machines to perform tasks that are typically associated with human intelligence, such as learning and problem-solving.”[1] This assignment of tasks to machines provides humanity with a broad set of conundrums that are neither new nor limited to education.

When we studied math in elementary school, we were taught to show our work and once we had demonstrated our understanding of basic concepts, we were shown how to use calculators to step past basic concepts and expand our knowledge. That idea also applies to the use of other efficiency tools in education. With the introduction of AI the use of efficiency tools has become more nuanced.

Possibilities: Working at Top of License

In her article, Lucinda McKnight assesses this new challenge and uncovers that an essential value of AI is to free students from routine, low-skill work.[2] I come from an industry (healthcare) that is habitually looking for ways to gain efficiencies and “do more with less,” so this potential value proposition resonates. We use the phrase “working at the top of one’s license” to describe the desired state of not having highly skilled workers do low-skilled work.

One of the low-skill tasks that AI can help with is weeding through the onslaught of information that is available to us. The exponential growth of information being made available to us[3] highlights the utility of AI tools in efficiently synthesizing data. In other words, my use of AI to help me query the right information frees me up to do higher-level work.

Possibilities: Collaboration

Another example of the value of AI is around collaboration. Regardless of our various opinions regarding the shift to remote work, in this new reality, AI has provided me a helpful tool. In the old days, when I needed to write a carefully worded email to intentionally convey a message, or if I was struggling to write my thoughts in the appropriate voice, I might have previously leaned on a nearby colleague to lend their thoughts. I no longer have the luxury of an ever-present thought partner; I now ask Chat GPT.

Caution: How Good is the Data?

As Michael Webb shared in his presentation to Kent University: Chat GPT-3 and its impact on Education, the products generated by AI tools cannot be relied upon to be technically accurate[4] or have a full set of data. This was made glaringly obvious for me when I was looking for a quote to include in this blog and after asking ChatGPT for the exact wording, the response I got was: “I’m sorry, but I don’t have access to specific quotes from movies that were released after my last knowledge update in September 2021.”

Caution: Should I Trust the Machines with whom I am partnering?

Did you catch it earlier when I referred to AI as a “thought partner”? If I think about this idea of including a machine as a partner to my work, it is unsettling. Partnering with machines presents a radical shift to our culture. As with any shift, there are benefits and drawbacks – only some of which have been identified, yet. David Brooks puts it well in a recent editorial:

I find myself surrounded by radical uncertainty — uncertainty not only about where humanity is going but about what being human is. As soon as I begin to think I’m beginning to understand what’s happening, something surprising happens — the machines perform a new task…[5]

In preparing to write this post, I noticed that the terms Artificial Intelligence and Generative Artificial Intelligence were being used and I wanted clarity on the concepts. After a few searching clicks, I landed on a Wikipedia page titled “synthetic media.”[6] On this page, Synthetic Media is defined as:

(also known as AI-generated media, media produced by generative AI, personalized media, and colloquially as deepfakes) … a catch-all term for the artificial production, manipulation, and modification of data and media … such as for the purpose of misleading people or changing an original meaning.

“Deepfakes, manipulation, misleading” are words that articulate the true conundrum we are facing today. Not only is the idea of partnering with machines creating dissonance, we also have to understand that there are humans behind these machines.

New Lessons for Old Truths

In this time of synthetic media and partnering with machines we are challenged to continue to seek out human interaction. I may continue pinging ChatGPT for ideas on how to communicate an idea with just the right balance of voice and content, but I need to not live in that space of synthetic partnership. I need to find ways to collaborate with other “image bearers” on a regular basis.

Additionally, I observe a need for improved understanding of the relationship between information, teachers and students.[8] In his discussion, Boud calls educators to be intentional about what students are required to do for themselves, especially in reference to tools that will be certainly used in the workplace.[9] Rather than fearfully talking about the good old days of education and trying to push students to revert to earlier an time, we need to transparently assess emerging options with a curious mindset- looking for the possibilities while being mindful of potential pitfalls.[10]

In an earlier quote, Brooks questions what it means to be human. I see human identity as being made in God’s image as being a special differentiator. That foundation impacts the way that I engage with tools created for my assistance. A journalist observed that “AI can only repeat and regurgitate.[7]” As a student (and a human), my essential function is to do so much more than parrot back facts and figures. Rather, my role is to strive to make meaning of that information and to create connections of that learning to other learnings. As technology continues to evolve to solve new problems, our challenge will be to not abdicate our role.


[1] “Artificial Intelligence,” in Wikipedia, August 28, 2023, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Artificial_intelligence&oldid=1172696175.

[2] McKnight, Lucinda. Eight ways to engage with AI writers in higher education. https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1eMgz1LWSXLOeFrPcAMDf0z5KEwFVhAs7

[3] “A New ‘Crisis of Confidence,’” accessed August 28, 2023, https://blogs.georgefox.edu/dlgp/a-new-crisis-of-confidence/.

[4] Chat GPT-3 and Its Impact on Education: Michael Webb, 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUNcrSrm47E.

[5] David Brooks, “Opinion | ‘Human Beings Are Soon Going to Be Eclipsed,’” The New York Times, July 13, 2023, sec. Opinion, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/13/opinion/ai-chatgpt-consciousness-hofstadter.html.

[6] “Synthetic Media,” in Wikipedia, August 24, 2023, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Synthetic_media&oldid=1172027136.

[7] The Writers’ Revolt Against A.I. Companies, 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rEIeWoeDVA.

[8] Suspicion, Cheating and Bans: A.I. Hits America’s Schools, 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a65K1S6S-v0.

[9] AssessmentAI, David Boud, https://drive.google.com/file/d/190H6EdmV3zVuEEStET2kcTHdKkp8k9Wd/view?usp=drive_link

[10] “Lucinda McKnight,” THE Campus Learn, Share, Connect, October 11, 2022, https://www.timeshighereducation.com/campus/eight-ways-engage-ai-writers-higher-education.

About the Author

Jennifer Vernam

18 responses to “Barbie, Artificial Intelligence and Our Attempts at Solving Problems”

  1. Kally Elliott says:

    Thank you for this post. You helped me better understand AI vs. Generative AI, when I don’t think I’d even made the distinction in the language being used.

    I have used ChatGPT for a few things – one of them being “write a call to worship in the voice of Barbara Brown Taylor.” I was also encouraged to use it to write a rough draft of a sermon, just to see what it could produce. The call to worship was okay. It needed quite a bit of editing but it gave me a good place to start. The sermon was trash. Granted, I don’t think I asked it to write it in a particular voice, it was so terrible I quit reading after the first paragraph. I’ve found that our humanity is one thing that makes sermon writing and even paper writing readable and relatable. I have to insert my own voice, my personality, into sermon, blog, paper writing for it to be anything worth reading. That’s not to say my personality is something people want to read – it’s just to say that our humanity is worth including in what we produce.

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. You’ve left me thinking and learning.

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      I have found the same to be true. Using AI without any filter is a very risky proposition! But, like you, sometimes it can help me just get unstuck from a mental block, which has provided me with a big sense of empowerment.

  2. mm Russell Chun says:

    Hi Jennifer,
    Brilliant post.

    Somewhere about 1989, my first British Professor walked to my class (in Stuttgart, Germany). He sat down, failed to smile, and started reading something from his leather bag.

    After a moment he asked, “what are your questions?”

    We sat there a little stunned waiting for him to spoon feed us information. It soon became clear to us that he had issued the reading list, and wanted us now to query him about the book, the topic in general and how International Relations was relevant to the student uprisings at the Berlin Wall (this was prior to the fall).

    As an instructor he was demanding us to read, analyze and perform rudimentary “critical thinking.”

    And now we have AI.

    Last semester we learning to put on our doctoral thinking caps (It was a threshold experience for me) and now with AI, I THINK we will be applying our critical thinking to the most effective use of AI.

    Last semester it was Obsidian and Zotero. YUCK, new tricks – old dog. But now I love both. I am not sure if I am using them as intended, but I am using both to taking my research to a new level. I figure ChatGPT will be just another tool. This will only enhance my research on my NPO.

    Today I told Alexa, “Reminders.” She went over my schedule for the week and indeed for the next month. It keeps me on track.

    I grew up watching Capt Kirk (Star Trek) say “computer – then put forth a query” as a tool the no name computer helped him launch on his mission “where no man has gone before.”

    I guess I am okay with that.

    Welcome AI, what can you do for me?

    Caution: Verify sources/THEN publish.


    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      Russell, I like how you are using Capt. Kirk as a litmus test for AI. I wonder where else such a barometer would be helpful 🙂

      Seriously, though, comparing the use of AI to other tools that were previous “threshold concepts” for us is a good thought. So many tools we take for granted today were challenging in their inception. Thanks for that perspective!

  3. Travis Vaughn says:

    Jen, I think you have raised a number of issues that I (and others) need to reflect on a great deal. You talked about the value that ChatGPT brings, replacing the need to reach out to a colleague for their thoughts. At the same time, you talked about not needing to “live in that space of synthetic partnership. I need to find ways to collaborate with other ‘image bearers’ on a regular basis.” I thought of Curt Thompson’s research concerning “zoom fatigue” and the need humans have to connect with one another, in-person (of course, Thompson’s writing was talked about a great deal early during the pandemic). As image bearers, we have a great deal of work ahead of us. We have to continue finding pathways to use AI (and other technologies) for God’s glory while not diminishing the part of image bearing that necessities human-human interaction, in-person and in real places and spaces. Excellent post.

  4. Esther Edwards says:

    Hi, Jennifer,
    You are a teacher through and through! I, like Kally understand generative artificial intelligence a bit more because of your post.

    Your statement about our role always being needed to make meaning of information and to create connections of that learning to other learnings summarizes the fact that no matter how far AI evolves, truly replacing a human is an impossibility. The creative hand of God simply excels beyond his creation. There is no competition here.
    Last year, my daughter lost her hearing in one ear due to a virus that attacked her ear’s inner nerve. It has been a year of researching a variety of options to replace her hearing. The most expensive option is the cochlear implant which is amazing. What a gift to have this technology. However, even with this advancement in science, the implant still lacks in comparison to the natural function of the ear. And so it is with AI and humanity.

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      “No matter how far AI evolves, truly replacing a human is an impossibility.” You have captured my worldview on this topic well. It underlines, I think, how distinctly “Christian” my approach is – which makes me curious about the views of those with a secular perspective. As usual, now I have more questions 🙂

  5. mm Kim Sanford says:

    Thanks for your post; I found it really enjoyable to read. The two ideas that stuck out to me were your reference to a thought partner and then later distinguishing humans as God’s image bearers. Connecting the two ideas, it does seem like you’ve hit on something that AI will never be able to do. (Maybe I’ll say “shouldn’t” be able to do, because someone will likely prove me wrong before the week is out.) Specifically, because of AI’s predictive nature, Chat GPT will necessarily spit out the most common ideas or the most prevalent research on a given topic. What you won’t get from Chat GPT is that colleague or friend saying, “Here’s a crazy idea…” or “I bet no one has ever thought of this…” And as we all know, those crazy ideas sometimes result in the best solutions.

  6. mm Tim Clark says:

    I know others have said this already but this was so important for me to read:

    “I need to not live in that space of synthetic partnership. I need to find ways to collaborate with other “image bearers” on a regular basis.”

    This is the challenge of AI (and also social media). Face to face, heart to heart connection with image bearers is vital to our health and growth.

    As I design avenues of digital discipleship and live in a world where at least 1/4 of our congregation livestreams any given Sunday, this is critically important for me to remember.


    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      It always feels great to be quoted, Tim! Glad you found the post helpful. I am very interested in how you find the way to break through to that 25% of your congregation that is virtual… there is a way, I am sure of it!

  7. mm John Fehlen says:

    Jennifer, good work on this post. I love the color pops you’ve added to the headings. Nicely done. In the words of Austin Kleon, I am gonna steal that like an artist. Thanks for “showing your work” (another nod to Kleon).

    Is anyone else surprised that ChatGPT hasn’t updated its information since 2021? That feels like a lifetime ago in AI years!

    I too am finding a place for AI in low-level tasks such as summaries, phraseology, etc in order to leave more time for high-level work that my role is mainly comprised of. I, however, still feel funny about it (almost shameful), like I’m gonna be found out, or worse, called out.

    Does anyone else feel funny, almost shameful, about AI?

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      I think that the update issue is because I am using the free version? I’m not sure… sort of funny that I am totally open-minded about AI, as long as it’s free!

      Also, thanks for noticing the pink font. I wasn’t sure if that was too over-the-top!

  8. Jenny Dooley says:

    Hi Jennifer,
    I enjoyed your post. I keep thinking about what you said regarding being image bearers of God and with that how we are designed to co-create with God. The creativity and unique contribution we are called to make feels a bit diminished with use of artificial intelligence, maybe a little less authentic. I guess I am feeling what John is feeling…it still feels like cheating or wrong even when used appropriately. It does feel uncomfortable.

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      Hi Jenny- I value your insight, here. Especially because you are doing the hard work of understanding where the resistance is coming from. This is essential because it is an unpacking of your fundamental values and that is so important! The wrestling with these sorts of issues is what we need to take the time to do.

  9. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    It’s interesting this “partnership” of working with AI. There was something in one of the videos where it was used to help students with debating a topic. Something that was stated was that it helped a student gain confidence in their words by being able to debate with something that is not judgmental! Unfortunately, I see this as a benefit for our children and even us who put thoughts and ideas out into the ethernet to be put up for ridicule and criticism. What a sad space to be, but maybe AI can help young people especially with running past it their social media posts to clean it up and clarify before putting it out there? I think it could help with a response to someone who hate’s your post, asking it, what is a diplomatic way of responding to this response, for instance. Sometimes our first emotive response may need some “AI” softening:). What do you think?

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      Hmmm…. almost like an anonymous first pass. It would be interesting to see what would happen if we typed a not-yet-posted post into ChatGPT and asked: “Where could this be misinterpreted?” or “What are contrary views to what I have just stated?” or “What is a nicer way to restate ‘x’?”

      Now I am curious and want to try it. Thanks for the idea!

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