Ep 8: In Our Image: Navigating Humanity and AI with Professor Noreen Herzfeld
The AI for Churches Podcast
Ep 8: In Our Image: Navigating Humanity and AI with Professor Noreen Herzfeld

Episode Overview

Join host Cassandra Robinson and Professor Noreen Herzfeld, the Nicholas and Bernice Reuter Professor of Science and Religion at St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict, as they deep dive into the intersection of faith, technology, and AI. They highlight the importance of understanding the ethical implications of AI, explore how religious institutions can navigate this new technological landscape, and address the potential environmental impact of AI.

The Human Desire to Create AI in Our Image

Noreen’s interest in the subject was sparked while teaching a class on AI. She found herself intrigued by the human desire to create AI that mirrors us. This curiosity led her to explore the topic through a theological lens, conducting research at the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley. Her findings culminated in her book, “In Our Image: Artificial Intelligence and the Human Spirit,” which delves into theological aspects of creating AI in our likeness.

The Human Desire for Connection and Relationship

Noreen highlights how our desire for companionship, even with AI, grows as society becomes more secular. However, she points out a challenge: wanting AI to be both a tool and a companion can lead to problems. Treating AI as a person might create digital servitude, while treating it just as a tool could prevent meaningful relationships.

The Ethical Implications of AI Development

Noreen also expresses concerns about the biases and limitations that can be embedded in AI. As imperfect beings, our creations will inevitably reflect our own flaws and biases. She warns against using AI without considering the implications.

The Importance of Embodiment in Christianity

Noreen emphasizes the importance of embodiment in Christianity, highlighting the concept of incarnation where God became a human, experiencing human pain and suffering. Additionally, she mentions sacraments, physical rituals that symbolize our embodiment and interaction with the physical world.

Navigating the Age of AI in Churches

Noreen suggests that churches should educate their parishioners about the capabilities and limitations of AI. She emphasizes the need for pastors and priests to have a good understanding of AI to address any misconceptions effectively.

The Dependency on AI

Cassandra and Noreen concur on the potential drawbacks of using AI tools, which can foster a dependency on technology at the expense of our own intellect and critical thinking. They recommend utilizing AI for brainstorming ideas but advise cross-checking information from trusted sources like Google to ensure accuracy and context.

Notable Quotes

  • Noreen at [12:47] – “Think about AI in our literature, in our movies. It’s always a character that we relate to, that we form a relationship with.”
  • Noreen at [18:20] – “AI is a tool, but we also want it to be a partner. And the problem is, it can’t be both at the same time.”
  • Noreen  at [21:50] – “ As we make AI more and more autonomous, we’re going to program our own biases, our own hatreds, our own weaknesses into it.”
  • Noreen at: [31:57] – “One of the ways that I see AI is helpful is in the exploration of space and of the cosmos.”

Episode Highlights

  • (03:08) Delving into the concept of AI resembling humanity
  • (07:03) Noreen’s book “In Our Image: Artificial Intelligence and the Human Spirit.”
  • (08:26) Varied notions on the idea of reflecting God’s image
  • (12:37) Significance of relationships in God’s image
  • (14:07) Exploring the human desire for connection and relationship
  • (15:44) The importance of gradual AI integration
  • (18:17) The problem with AI as both a tool and a companion
  • (27:42) The crucial role of embodiment in Christianity
  • (30:04) AI’s potential to amplify spiritual connection and faith
  • (33:22) Navigating the age of AI while upholding Christian beliefs and values
  • (36:34) Addressing the ethical implications of AI and the need for balance
  • (41:32) The challenges of scaling up AI
  • (42:44) Dependency on AI tools
  • (44:17) Understanding AI’s limitations and the importance of critical thinking
  • (45:46) Noreen’s personal experiences leveraging AI to promote the gospel and support church leadership
  • (46:48) Noreen’s upcoming projects and publications 

Join us as we deep dive into the intersection of faith, technology, and AI. 

Resources & Links

Cassandra Robinson
Professor Noreen Herzfeld
Mentioned Book