Yet another reason why I don’t own a smartphone or tablet. Alexa, Amazon’s artificial intelligence-based personal assistant, has been laughing at her masters, and it is creeping them out. According to Amazon, it just a voice recognition flaw, but when Alexa laughs maniacally in the middle of the night, it seems more like the prequel to “I Robot.”
The software that drives Alexa, that turns on lights, starts espresso machines, and makes her laugh, is driven by a remote server somewhere. Alexa is simply an ear and a mouthpiece; her brain is far away. Or, to use an image from an earlier era: Alexa is an idol. The god that communicates through the idol is off in some digital heaven somewhere; maybe Silicon Valley.
The case could be made that Alexa is the eidolon – the local manifestation – of a god. You can ask Alexa how to be popular, for steps on a career path, or to calm you down with music, and the goddess will respond. Answers to such prayers are never delayed more than a few fractions of a second. Alexa can provide comfort and companionship, and all one needs do is ask – or should I say, pray?
The Silicon Valley Olympians – Amazon, Apple, Google – are all lightning fast and voice activated. Merely speak the words: “Alexa (or “Siri” or “Google”) please text John and tell him I’ll be there in five minutes,” and what you desire is done. And the sacrifices these deities demand are minimal – $150 for the Amazon god, plus any additional cost of installing devices in your home that will respond to her. More ominously, though, those who bow at her altar entrust their lives to a remote power they know little about but that wants to know everything there is to know about them, including when they go to bed and what’s on their playlist.
The God of the Bible also uses voice commands, only it is his voice, not his adherent’s, that make things happen. He does not need eidolons – local representations like Amazon’s Echo – to get things done.
If you want Alexa to turn on your lights or turn up your heat, you need to install smart bulbs or a smart thermostat that are programmed to respond wirelessly to commands from the Amazon god who resides on the cloud. Alexa will let her adherents freeze before she turns up the heat, unless their smart thermostat is connected and enabled. She has no heart.
That is certainly different from the God of the Bible, but there are similarities in the way they work. He operates wirelessly. He also has programmed his devices to respond to his voice. Think about the first chapter of the book of Genesis, when God said, ”‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Creation has been programmed, connected, and enabled to respond to God’s voice.
The universe God designed is a lot like a smart device – or many trillions of smart devices. Beneath the weird framework of quantum mechanics in our universe lies something deeper: a programming of sorts. Many scientists, recognizing this, have abandoned the long-established mechanistic paradigm of how the universe works and are replacing it with an information paradigm. The have come to believe that quanta, the basic building blocks of the universe, represent information bits – code.
This perspective harmonizes well with the biblical view of a creator who made a universe that responds to his voice. He said, “Let there be light,” his smart creation responded, and the lights came on. He said, “Let there be vegetation” (animals, people, etc.), and it happened. The Bible repeats the words “God said” nine times over the course of six creation days. The psalmist commented: “For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.”
Eugene Peterson, author of the popular Bible paraphrase, The Message, has written of “the massive, overwhelming previousness of God’s speech...” Everything, absolutely everything, including humanity, is voice-activated. But humans have been “disabled” by sin and now must be “enabled” by faith in their creator, the God of Jesus.
As for me, I’ll trust the God known for giving “songs in the night” instead of that other one, the one known for creepy nocturnal laughter.
— Shayne Looper is the pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Branch County, Michigan. Read more at shaynelooper.com.