Modern Technology and the Human Future
A Christian Appraisal
- ISBN: 9780830852208
- Published By: InterVarsity Press
- Published: December 2018
Craig M. Gay’s Modern Technology and the Human Future: A Christian Appraisal is another addition to the growing Christian literature critiquing advances of technology and the encroachment of automation technology. The author traces the impact of modern technology development on humans and, more specifically, on the Christian understanding of humanity. Gay’s grasp of the current technological climate allows him to make reasonable predictions about a fast-approaching future dominated by technology. Additionally, his ability to trace the intellectual history of technological helps situate and ground his Christian response to the present moment.
In the first chapter, Gay provides a brief but informative overview of the larger technology conversation. He helpfully clarifies definitions and identifies the emergence of automation as the crux of the issue. While Gay highlights the benefits afforded by new technologies, he also calls attention, like other Christian writers on the subject, to their negative consequences: the ‘reprogramming’ of the mind from slow deliberate thinking to speed and efficiency, the threat of mass unemployment, and the loss of the private life (35–54).
In chapters two and three, Gay examines the historical development of technology, but not by focusing on changes in science or engineering. Instead, he attends to the economic context of technological progress, and the philosophical ideas that have influenced it. According to the author, “Modern technology and the modern economy are … crucially and inextricably linked” (77). Modern capitalism’s emphasis to “see return on investment … helps to explain why modern technological development often seems to display no final purpose beyond that of simply delivering ‘more’” (82). Thus, economic systems exert a far more powerful influence on technological innovation than scientific progress. In addition to the economic influence, technology is also shaped by how it is interpreted, and whether it is praised or repudiated. Gay provides a short overview of several periods of intellectual history, noting how the prevailing philosophical ideas of an era (such as Cartesianism, ontological realism, and nominalism) affect our understanding of technology, and through it our understanding of humanity, and nature. He demonstrates an extensive knowledge of the history of philosophy as he traces worrying intellectual trends, such as the tendency to view nature in increasingly mechanistic terms, and to neglect the study of “being” itself.
To overcome the broken view of humanity and nature, Gay argues that “we need a change of mind” (130). This “change of mind” is found in chapters four and five as Gay’s Christian approach to technology. Gay believes the key to changing our relationship to technology is “remembering what the Christian religion says about where we are and … who we are” (135). The Christian worldview centers on the four Christian doctrinal narratives: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. Armed with these theological resources, Gay argues, humans have the ability to confront new automation technologies and “be prepared to defend, not simply human persons and the possibilities of genuinely humane and personal action, but the deeply personal quality of reality itself” (202). Christians must recognize that God bestows a unique ontological status on humanity and that creation is ordered toward a particular telos. Recognizing this reality, Gay exhorts Christians to stand against the growing automation technology while still affirming the positive effects of technology in everyday life.
While Gay highlights various computer and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies throughout his book, his book is primarily focused on how these technologies contribute to the growing fears of automation. As such, Gay’s book must be understood less as a commentary on the specific advances of computer technology and AI, and more as an analysis of how these new technologies accentuate the prevalence of automation. The book contains fewer examples of how certain technologies impact humanity and society as a whole. Rather, Gay raises a more general concern against automation and how our technological systems and culture pose a significant danger. Readers expecting a critique of new emerging computer or AI technology may be sorely disappointed in Gay’s lack of engagement with these subjects.
However, Gay’s book, when compared to other recent Christian literature on technology, provides an innovative approach to the conversation. Recent analyses of technology are often narrowly focused on specific AI technologies and how the continued progress of AI leads to alarming ethical considerations. Gay expands the conversation by considering automation more generally, which moves the discussion beyond the same issues that have been previously discussed. Perhaps this book will lead to new and original considerations of technology in general and AI technology specifically.
In a society saturated and fascinated by technology, Christians cannot be willingly indifferent toward technology’s growing influence and impact. The effects of continued technological advancement present serious concerns for Christian communities and society more broadly. Gay’s book joins a chorus of other Christians voices warning about the siren call of technological progress. These voices are necessary to develop a proper future ethical and philosophical understanding of technology.
Eddy Wu is a doctoral student in apologetics and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS).Eddy WuDate Of Review:January 22, 2022