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

The Wisdom of Artificial Intelligence

Written by: on January 15, 2024

The title says it all. Robot Souls. In her latest book, Eve Poole explores questions like:

What would it take for robots to have souls? In order to answer that question, we have to define what a soul really is, which she discusses at length. [1] 

Then the next question is, would it even be possible to program souls into our artificial intelligence?

Finally, would robots endowed with souls actually be our desired outcome or not?

I have to give Poole immense credit; she thinks through these questions and their implications so well while I feel like I can barely wrap my head around them. She seems to approach the whole subject from a wonderfully refreshing perspective. The “better question” she says, “is to ask what kind of humans we want to be, in relation to AI.” [2] In other words, how do our choices regarding the development and use of artificial intelligence affect our humanness?

Much of Poole’s discussion boils down to a question of knowledge vs. wisdom. Obviously, AI can be programmed with all the knowledge available to humankind. Even more impressively, AI can sift through and recall all that knowledge in mere seconds. What AI lacks is an effective sense of how to make a wise or moral decision. Here a definition of wisdom might be helpful. Tim Keller writes, “Wisdom can be defined as: competence with regard to the complex realities of life. It has to do with understanding a particular situation and then knowing the right thing to do.” [3] This aligns with an Aristotelian perspective on “phronesis, or “practical wisdom,” which enables its possessor to deliberate well “about what is good and beneficial,” and thereby enables one to see “what conduces to living well as a whole.” [4]

All this begs the question, can AI be programmed to make wise moral decisions? As Poole says, moral thinking is “best done by humans because of the complexity of their thinking” however in the same thought she cautions that humans are naturally limited by their “tendency towards bias and error.” [5] In response to this question, I did a quick google search to see what progress is currently being made in this area and this led me down a fascinating rabbit trail. I got as far as MIT’s Moral Machine [6] which stopped me in my tracks. As best as I understand, this project is designed to collect data on the moral judgement calls that humans would make in order to program AI in moral reasoning. It presents participants with a moral problem (all variations on the classic Trolley Problem [7] , at least as far into it as I got) and it tracks real humans’ moral decisions. Mostly it’s asking the question, “Which is the lesser of two evils?”

This certainly seems like a woefully incomplete moral metric, but perhaps it’s a decent baby-step of a start? (Question mark intentional. I have my doubts.) We seem to be missing a piece or two of the puzzle. I am reminded of the verses in Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV):

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

True wisdom requires much more than a series of ethical dilemmas where we determine the lesser of two evils, not to mention where the moral decision is determined by a majority vote! We need true wisdom from God, the source of all knowledge and wisdom. James 3:17-18 (ESV) describes this for us:

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Wisdom from above is certainly our best starting point. Beyond that, I admit all I’ve done in this post is raise more questions than answers. But isn’t that reflective of where we currently are with AI? The reality is that we know monumental ethical dilemmas are on the horizon, even more than we’ve already encountered. May we tread carefully and seek wisdom from above.

1 Eve Poole, Robot Souls: Programming in Humanity. (Abington: CRC Press, 2024) Chapter 6.

2 Ibid., Kindle location 553. 

3 Tim Keller, Gospel in Life. https://podcast.gospelinlife.com/e/training-in-wisdom-1635521853/. Accessed November 22, 2023. 

4 University of Chicago Center for Practical Wisdom. https://wisdomcenter.uchicago.edu/news/discussions/wisdom-and-tradition-aristotle. Accessed November 22, 2023.

5 Eve Poole, Robot Souls: Programming in Humanity. (Abington: CRC Press, 2024) Location 1635.

6 Moral Machine. https://www.moralmachine.net/. Accessed November 22, 2023.

7 Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem. Accessed November 22, 2023. 



About the Author


Kim Sanford

8 responses to “The Wisdom of Artificial Intelligence”

  1. Travis Vaughn says:

    Kim, I read your post and immediately recalled a podcast I came across recently when I was searching for a podcast to make sense of where A.I. is currently and where it’s headed. I came across this podcast: https://www.econtalk.org/can-artificial-intelligence-be-moral-with-paul-bloom/
    The title of the episode (and for the record, I have never listened to this podcast before, and I only started this particular episode but did not get far) is “Can Artificial Intelligence Be Moral,” and the guest on the show basically said that “we don’t want moral A.I.” (and then he began to explain why). A second thing I thought about while reading your post was what you highlighted Poole saying about humans being naturally limited by their “tendency towards bias and error.” This makes me continue to wonder how much of humanity’s brokenness would/could play into the design of a robot with a soul. I get it that we are dealing with math when it comes to the coding part, but how much of our faulty faculties (because of our fallenness) would work its way into our “creation.” Much to think about.

  2. Esther Edwards says:

    You mentioned “True wisdom requires much more than a series of ethical dilemmas where we determine the lesser of two evils, not to mention where the moral decision is determined by a majority vote! ” This book has made me so incredibly grateful as to how we were created. How can one really describe the soul? And the thought that you bring up of true wisdom is another whole deep thought concept. Wisdom comes from God himself, but also from lived experience and working through the hard places as well as the celebration of joy-filled places. I find it fun to consider the AI possiblities, but the incredible hand of God at work makes AI look like a toddler at play.
    Thank you for focusing back on the best way to navigate all the pros and cons of AI as it evolves.
    My question to you is, how has AI helped you, if at all, in the area of missions? I remember you saying that your husband had started experimenting with it way back in our South Africa Advance.

    • mm Kim Sanford says:

      You highlighted that wisdom comes from God and also from experiencing struggles as we journey through life. You are so right that wisdom is such a complex, ephemeral topic that I simply can’t imagine it ever being coded into a machine (but maybe I’ll be proved wrong someday).

      I have started to use ChatGPT a fair bit this year. I’ve actually discovered that it’s a pretty good translator. Twice now I’ve written an article in English, run it through Chat GPT and then had a French friend check for errors. In both cases, the friend made only a couple of changes. I’ve also used it quite a few times to write emails in French for things like connecting with someone I heard speak at a conference or some official government letters. It’s great for that kind of thing. I’m not sure I trust it for anything deeper or more important though.

  3. Jenny Dooley says:

    Hi Kim, I love your question, “In other words, how do our choices regarding the development and use of artificial intelligence affect our humanness?” I think that is at the heart of all my questions as well. What do you see as the positives and negatives of developing and interacting with AI and the potential impact on our human souls?
    We certainly need wisdom! I wonder how AI will impact future generations.

    • mm Kim Sanford says:

      I don’t know if this quite answers your question, but I keep thinking about how the Internet has changed the way we receive and process information. I wonder if AI will cause a similar seismic shift for future generations. As I’ve leaned into using AI to write emails and official communications more and more, I’ve started wondering which of those emails, etc. that I receive have been also written by AI. I suspect that our children and grandchildren will be faced with that question every day of their adult lives.

  4. Scott Dickie says:

    Great thoughts Kim. I likewise was thinking through the role of wisdom in this discussion. I can’t tell you where I first heard it or who it should be credited to…but the definition of wisdom that I appreciate (in part because it is short and I can remember it!) is, “Wisdom if knowledge rightfully applied,” We can have all the knowledge in the world but still fail to use it effectively to build others up if it isn’t timely, nuanced, communicated well, etc… and it seems the human species is sufficiently complex that a general formula (designed by a computer) could help get us part way there….but not all the way to wisdom.

  5. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    I relate to your post and when you said you raised more questions over AI. I think that is probably the lot we are going to be in going into the future. I worry that we chase after new technology with ethics, how do you think we can catch up or anticipate better before we are at the next “new” thing. Is that possible?

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