October 01, 2023

OPINION: AI can’t, and shouldn’t, do it all

During my college years, I helped out the daily newspaper with weekend coverage of high school sports. The paper, similar to the CNA, gathered pertinent information from area coaches after games to put together short recaps of basketball games. I spent some late Friday and Saturday nights doing just that; calling or receiving phone calls from coaches who had the score sheet with them.

Score by quarters, who had the high score, rebounds, assists and maybe a brief description if the basketball game had an exciting finish. I respected the coaches who willingly explained the latter but were on the losing end.

Fast forward 30 years later and our technology could do the same thing. Some news agencies, including the Associated Press, are aware that AI has the capability to produce basic news stories. A story in the Monday, Sept. 11 paper included how the beginnings of AI (artificial intelligence) was in Iowa. We’ve reached a point where our technology can mimic human thought and productivity.

I should have saw this coming.

I tried hard to avoid it as I keep wanting to think people, the right people, will make things better and we can hit the brakes on our disturbingly growing addiction to anything computer based. I think it was Christmas Day 2008, I watched the Disney animated movie “WALL-E.” The futuristic movie showed how a cleanup robot interacted with the debris and leftovers of a destroyed Earth only to realize it was computers and technology that took over.

Japan’s culture has seen the use of companion robots. Sounds like the robots are more on the equivalent of a pet than another person in the house. It’s not treated as a toy, as there are items that look and act like pets that are intended to be played. But the robot’s goal is to have a human-pet relationship as if the robot was a living animal.

Referring to another movie, I do wonder if the relationship between the person and the robot is like what was depicted in the excellent 2000 movie “Cast Away.” Tom Hanks’ character is developed by his dialogue with a volleyball as he tries to leave a deserted island.

I’ve been told there are people in Creston who have experimented, or played with, AI through ChatGPT. I can’t bring myself to do it. Yet. Like the volleyball, ChatGPT is more of a conversation tool and will answer questions, admit mistakes and question uncertain premises and inappropriate comments. It will question, but how does it emotionally relate?

Those in churches are also wondering about AI’s influence on its operations. The September edition of Ministry magazine includes contributors who have studied and experimented with AI and other technological tools. A simple observation is how if people text through a smartphone, it already is a form of AI. Eric Louw asked if people who text notice how through autocorrect your phone is suspecting what you are wanting to type. A tablet I have has picked up on my typing habits and word choices. Other subtle, basic AI examples he is used how ads show up on things we have looked at in past days.

But the AI devices do have limitations.

How well does AI do with emotion or a spiritual influence?

An AI chat device was asked to respond to the book “Steps to Christ.” The response was acceptable until it created the phrase, “Satan’s grasp, we’ll never depart.” That’s a 180-degree turn of the traditional Christian as they are to be embraced by God or Jesus. Maybe it’s another example of how there are flaws in emerging technology and devices. Remember, those who had VCRs took the risk of the player “eating” tape before we switched to DVDs where nothing got ate.

But the question still stands. Can we truly, genuinely replicate human emotions in machines? The spiritual aspect is a great example.

I’ve sat in church services where the pastor explains a story that makes Hallmark movies look even more vanilla. For years, I have used the same newspaper column before Christmas of a great story of support for a single-parent. I first heard it in a Christmas Eve service. That story gets me every time.

But AI information doesn’t have to be something that dramatic.

I’ve also heard some winning coaches explain last-second success with a twinkle in their eye as the butterflies are still leaving their stomach.

AI doesn’t have a stomach.

John Van Nostrand


An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.