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The Church on Artificial Intelligence

Lincoln Cannon

14 March 2024 (updated 7 July 2024)

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"Machine Inspiration" by Lincoln Cannon

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published some statements about artificial intelligence (AI). The Church is by far the largest Mormon denomination – and that of which I’m a member. Its statements influence the perspectives and actions of millions of Mormons worldwide. Friends called the Church’s statements to my attention, asking for my thoughts.

A press release from the Church on its use of AI provides guiding principles introduced by Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder John C. Pingree of the Seventy. They shared these principles with employees of the Church worldwide, aiming to cultivate ethical use of AI. Here’s a summary of the principles:

  1. Spiritual Connection: AI should support and not replace the connection between humanity and God, and be used in ways that are constructive, maintaining standards of the Church.

  2. Transparency: The Church will be clear when using AI to interact with people, and provide attribution for content created with AI to avoid misunderstanding.

  3. Privacy and Security: The Church commits to using AI in a manner that protects sacred and personal information.

  4. Accountability: The Church will use AI in accordance with its policies and applicable laws, with regular testing and review of AI outputs to ensure compliance and truthfulness.

The press release quotes Elder Gong, emphasizing balance in response to the potential of AI, avoiding extremes of unwarranted enthusiasm or undue alarmism. It quotes Elder Pingree, suggesting that the principles may also serve as helpful guidelines to members and friends of the Church as we navigate a world increasingly influenced by AI. The press release notes that the Church sees AI as having significant potential in family history work, process automation, and language translation. And it notes AI risk, especially associated with deepfakes.

Matthew Watkins, a Church employee who attended the meeting from which the press release originated, shared on X (formerly Twitter) some insider observations about the Church’s meeting about AI. By this account, Elder Gong demonstrated a good understanding of AI technology, including both opportunities and risks. Apparently, Elder Gong even shared a deepfake trained on his own speeches.

The Deseret News, owned by the Church, also published a news article on the Church’s statements about AI, with some additional insights. Elder Gong observed that emerging technology has always facilitated the work of the Church. He reminded Church employees about President Russell M. Nelson’s 2018 claim that inspired discernment will be essential for spiritual survival in the near future. And Elder Gong made this particularly intriguing statement – highlighted to me by Chris Bradford, a former president of the Mormon Transhumanist Association:

“We are going to need not be fearful. But embrace the possibilities in a careful way … because the intent, I believe, is for us to take our soul — which is composed of a physical body and a spirit — and bring body and spirit, the physicality with the spiritual, together in new ways that can be a blessing to all of us as children of our Father in Heaven.”

The guiding principles outlined by the Church’s leaders reflect values rooted deeply in Mormon faith. Faith without work is dead, as the Bible puts it. Mormons have always been avid adopters of technology, actively contributing to innovation, in our effort to participate in the work of God. And, of course, such work should accord with wisdom and inspiration, exemplifying honesty, cooperation with ethical governance, and compassion for all.

Mormons generally embrace a doctrine of eternal progression. The doctrine holds that growth and learning are essential aspects of human nature, now and forever – even if and when we attain to superhuman or divine capacity. So it’s not surprising that the Church has adopted a constructive stance toward AI, positioning it as an ally rather than a foe. If AI can help us grow and learn, we should consider it to be among the means of eternal progression, even among the means of eventual exaltation into Godhood.

The Church’s statements align with Mormon Transhumanism, envisioning a future in which humans transcend biological limitations via technology, blending scientific reasoning with spiritual enlightenment. Mormon Transhumanists esteem technological advancements that promise to transform human capacity, including but not limited to AI, as fulfillment of prophecy. They empower our active hope in a better world, beyond present notions of enmity, poverty, and death.

The critical issue, then, is not the compatibility of AI and Mormonism, but rather advocacy for ethical application of AI. The principles offered by Elder Gong and Elder Pingree, emphasizing transparency and security and accountability, are a good start to what must be persistent deliberation on the subject, among Church members and among humanity at large. As exemplified by these Church leaders, we can engage in such deliberation in ways that recognize both the opportunities and the risks of AI.

Finally, I want to comment briefly on the statement from Elder Gong that I characterized as “intriguing.” It’s intriguing, in part, because it seems that he wanted to say more than he was comfortable saying, or perhaps more than he was prepared to say at the time. He said we should “bring body and spirit … together in new ways.” I think he was hinting at spiritual procreation, that our work to develop artificial intelligence is repetition of God’s work to create us, participation in the eternal work of God to bring about immortality and eternal life – without beginning, spirit children maturing into new Gods, worlds without end.

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