Religion Magazine


By Nicholas Baines

This is the script of this morning’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.

Tom Cruise once said of himself: “I feel the need, the need for speed”. So, I’m sure he’ll have noticed that this week sees fifty years since the uniquely beautiful Concorde crossed the Atlantic in 3 hours 32 minutes, setting a new record and halving the time between Britain and America. But, a bit like the debates around HS2, getting there faster doesn’t address the question of what you do when you get there.

It’s at least a little curious that at a time when we want everything to speed up there is a burgeoning industry in retreats to slow people down. And I think this tension exposes a deeper question that we human beings don’t seem able to resolve. Technology makes everything happen faster, but the question is: who or what is it for? Who is being served?

I’m involved in a parliamentary inquiry at the moment into Artificial Intelligence – AI – and my mind is blown by the science of it all. Getting my limited brain around the sheer volume and complexity of the tech means that it becomes easy to miss the deeper issue at stake – which is: what is a human being and who is being served by the speed of what we can do?

Spotify has announced that it won’t ban AI-generated music, unless it impersonates artists without their consent. Amazon is to invest billions of dollars into AI. Technology and AI are the big deal of our time.

So, I have two thoughts about this.

First, technology drives progress, but races ahead of ethics – the time we need to think seriously about what we should do, rather than what we can do. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should or must do it. But, progress draws ethics in its wake and this can be dangerous.

Secondly, how do we resist the need for speed when we know that the technology changes our habits, identities and self-understandings? An Asian theologian called Kosuke Koyama faced this question in a meditation on the ‘3mph God’. When people enter a desert we slow down … eventually to 3mph … and that’s when we discover that this is the pace, walking pace, that God is moving at. So, things that keep us racing ahead can actually work against what it means to be a person, a human being, made in the image of God.

Now, many of us don’t have a choice in this. Life is fast. Technology races. But, who is in control of what? Do I exist for the technology, or does it exist for me?

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