13 January 2023

An addendum to my last blog: ChatGPT enters theology

An addendum to my last blog: ChatGPT enters theology

Perhaps you too heard Akhandadhi Das, Vaishnava Hindu theologian who specialises in Vedanta philosophy, at 7:50 a.m. on Radio 4 yesterday morning, 12th January? Thought for the Day is a daily slot on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 providing spiritual insights from speakers such as rabbis and archbishops, as well as philosophers and writers.

While normally I let these talks wash over me while feeding the cat or brushing my teeth, I pricked up my ears when I heard Akhandadhi’s introductory sentence: “Last week Elon Musk announced good-bye to homework. He was referring to ChatGPT.” …

He told us that he asked ChatGPT to write a script for a Thought of the Day on the ethical and spiritual implications of itself – “in the style of me”, and reports that in the time it takes him to write “good morning”, the bot created something very plausible, obviously drawing on material that the theologian had published. He went on to give an example of the generated text. Here is just a taster: “We believe that the material world is an illusion, a temporary manifestation of the eternal reality of the divine. And we must look beyond it for a deeper understanding of truth…”

Akhandadhi Das finds this impressive, but also disturbing. As we all do, I think. “Here are words without an author, ideas without a thinker…” he says, but reminding us too that AI is meant to be a tool, with us humans being the operators. And that it is up to us to use our good judgement to evaluate the ‘rightness’ or ‚’truth’ of what has been written. Hinduism he says is all about learning to distinguish truth from illusion. With AI’s messages and conclusions, he believes that “only using the diligence that we have through our god-given intelligence can we hope to harness this phenomenal technology so that it really does serve the welfare of all.”

You can hear this worthwhile talk that’s only 3 minutes long here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p0dvvl5f

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