Computer technology can do much to serve us. But if it goes too far, it could harm our relationships with God and each other. We need to have a code of ethics for dealing with artificial intelligence to ensure that we use it wisely.

Here are some principles to keep in mind as you consider how best to use artificial intelligence:

  • Respect God's wisdom and seek His guidance on how to use artificial intelligence. Remember that God is the source of all creativity, and it's God who has given people the ability to think and create.

  • Make real relationships a priority. Remember what Jesus said is most important in life: to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Commit to investing more in your relationships with God and other human beings than in relationships with computers. Realize that computers cannot relate to you as deeply or truly as another biological person, because computers aren't animated with God's breath as human beings are. And only people - not computers - can be filled with God's Spirit. Placing a computer above God is idolatry; looking to a computer for meaningful companionship is futile.

  • Know that you are much more than just a mind. Think of a mentally retarded person or an elderly person struggling with senility. They may not be very productive, but they still contribute a lot to those around them, because they can give and receive love. Even if you were to upload the contents of your brain onto a computer, you wouldn't achieve immortality. It's only through a relationship with Jesus that your mind and spirit can live on, and your body can be resurrected.

  • Understand that artificial intelligence can sometimes prove useful, and in fact is currently being used in useful ways. Computers sometimes stand in for people in space exploration, mining, and disease research. They help streamline manufacturing, finance, and management processes. Consider how artificial intelligence might help make life easier for people without usurping human relationships.

  • Treat everything you create - including computers - with respect, not exploiting them, but using them for purposes about which you have carefully thought and prayed.

  • Remember that human beings are never replaceable. We are eternal beings made in God's image who are destined to live connected to Him and each other.

Adapted from In Our Image: Artificial Intelligence and the Human Spirit by Noreen L. Herzfeld, copyright 2002 by Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis, Mn., www.fortresspress.com, 1-800-328-4648.

Noreen L. Herzfeld is Associate Professor of Computer Science at St. John's University, Collegeville, Mn. She holds a doctorate in theology and advanced degrees in computer science and mathematics.