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Is 'human irrelevance' a reason for social problems?

The unspoken message of AI in general is that humans are no longer relevant. And that is its danger.

About two weeks before our contributions to this section are due the moderator sends an email, reminding us of the deadline and to confirm that we’ll have something.

When I got my email, a reply popped up on my iPhone before I could do anything, to wit: “ghgtn yes I confirm”. All I had to do was hit “send”.

I’m used to those suggestions at the bottom of an email – I’m determined never to use one – but this was different (witness the gibberish at the beginning). Evidently, our new friend, “artificial intelligence”, was at work.

(NECK-WRENCHING SEGUE ALERT) Increasingly, we hear stories of violent acts in downtown Victoria, gangs invading public schools, increasing vandalism. Politics has gone from an exchange of policy ideas and to an exercise in name-calling and outrageous statements, so long as people “spell the name right”.

Is there a connection between those events and AI?

Not long ago, I was on the bus heading downtown and sat next to a neighbour. We chatted for the entire trip: an everything-and-nothing conversation covering dogs, family, her art, my wife’s garden, among other things. At one point, I looked around the bus and realized that we were the only ones talking. The woman behind my neighbour was dozing; most others were deeply involved in their “devices”.

It wasn’t always like that: some years ago, while commuting to a different downtown job, the sound of the morning bus ride resembled a school recess in a lower key. People were chatting all over, and those who had a book – or played “Pokemon Go” – were the outcasts. Now, my neighbour and I were the exception.

So let’s connect the dots. The unspoken message on the bus is, “I don’t want to talk to you: my game/e-book/doomscrolling/Wordle (oops – guilty!) is much more important than you.” The AI reply on my iPhone implied that Anna’s email wasn’t worth my effort to respond out of my own head, and my intelligence level wasn’t up to the task, anyway.

The unspoken message of AI in general is that humans are no longer relevant. Now, some AI boffins are talking about creating AI that’s “smarter than humans”. Aside from the fact that I can think of pumpkins that are smarter than some humans (oops – guilty again!), don’t you hear the sound of a genie escaping from a bottle?

(These are also attempts at imitating God, and the Bible makes clear what God thinks of that. The “imitation of Christ” might be the ideal for Thomas á Kempis; imitation of God – not so much. But that’s for a sermon, in another time, at another place.)

So with this loss of human relevance, is it any wonder people try to create their own identity or wind up running with gangs, vandalizing, pushing conspiracy theories or doing drugs and living on the street? Aren’t these all ways of saying, “Hey! I’m here! I exist!” (or – worse – “no one can see me, so I’ll fade away”)?

Whether we like it or not, we’re supposed to notice one another, and to understand that we are all connected, even if we can’t see how. It’s as John Donne wrote, “no man is an island, entire of itself … if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were ….” Remembering that and noticing others might just bring a decline in the things we find wrong with our world.

Let’s remember to love people and use things, because these days, it’s become the other way around.

Drew Snider is a pastor at the Mustard Seed Street Church in Downtown Victoria. He has also written an e-book, "A Very Convenient Truth - or, Jesus Warned Us There'd Be Days Like These, so Stop Worrying About the Planet and Get With His Program!” 

You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking at

* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, June 22 2024