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Is AI Stepping into Emotional Territory?

Ryan Denison | Denison Forum | Updated: May 10, 2024
Is AI Stepping into Emotional Territory?

Is AI Stepping into Emotional Territory?


“What if the tech companies are all wrong, and the way artificial intelligence is poised to transform society is not by curing cancer, solving climate change or taking over boring office work, but just by being nice to us, listening to our problems and occasionally sending us racy photos?”

While that question from New York Times columnist Kevin Roose may sound crazy to some, AI companionship is among the fastest-growing and most profitable applications of that technology.

And, given Roose’s previous experiences with artificial companionship—Bing’s AI attempted to convince him he loved it more than his wife last year—it was interesting reading about his latest experience with artificial friends.

He notes that most of the major AI developers believed “that giving their chatbots too much personality, or letting users form emotional connections with them, was too risky.” However, their decision to remain out of that part of the market has opened the door for others, some of whom already have millions of devoted users. And while the AI companions they offer aren’t perfect, Roose found some of them to be startlingly realistic and insightful.

The sexual side of AI

Roose’s article is worth reading in full, but the part that stood out the most to me pertained to the struggle companies face with knowing where to draw the line when it comes to AI companionship.

You see, while general companionship is the primary emphasis in many cases, one of the fastest-growing sectors involves those who are looking to AI to satisfy other desires. Companies that have leaned into E.R.P—erotic role-playing—often sell customers romantic experiences ranging from intimate conversations to AI-generated pornography. The developers describe these experiences as perfectly reasonable applications of the technology.

As Alex Cardinell—the chief executive with Nomi— described, “I don’t shy away from it. It’s kind of weird to me, personally, that there’s an issue with this [AI romance].” He estimated that more than half of Nomi’s users have engaged with the service for romantic purposes of some form.

And these trends are only going to increase as the technology gets better, with younger generations at particular risk of embracing the sexual side of AI.

As Mark Legg describes in Sacred Sexuality: Reclaiming God’s Design, young people are increasingly rejecting the idea of not only marriage but sex and romantic relationships in general, with many turning to pornography instead. However, that decision is born more from the negative experiences they’ve seen from older generations than a lack of desire for what marriage should represent.

As such, the best way to combat these alternative expressions of sex and sexuality is by living out God’s design in a way that demonstrates why it’s better than the lesser forms offered by the world.

God’s plan for sex and intimacy

As Mark Turman stated in a recent Denison Forum podcast on the subject of God’s design for sex and relationships, “God’s not trying to be a killjoy here. He’s not trying to take away some beautiful, wonderful thing from us. He’s actually trying to frame it in a way that it can be fully all that it’s supposed to be.”

We see that message clearly in Mark 10 when a group of Pharisees approach Jesus to ask about divorce and he responds by citing Genesis 2:24, saying “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh,” before adding “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:7–9).

In the first century, the common approach to divorce among the Jews would make the no-fault divorce standards of today seem legalistic by comparison. In the Mishna, for example, Beit Hillel taught that something as simple as burning or oversalting a dish provided defensible grounds for separation while Rabbi Akiva argued that a man could divorce his wife if he found someone else more attractive. Divorce had become so common that many women were hesitant to even get married.

Christ counters that line of thinking by reminding them of what marriage should be, with sex a pivotal part of God’s plan.

You see, when two become one flesh physically, it is meant to reinforce the emotional and spiritual commitment between a husband and wife to become one in every other facet of their lives as well. And every time they have sex, it should be a reminder of that commitment.

Yet that sentiment is often far from how the church has approached sex, particularly when talking about it with young people.

How the church should speak about sex

Many—if not most—youth groups and well-intentioned Christian resources across the last several decades have portrayed sex as a dangerous temptation from the devil, with a focus on the ways the culture views it wrongly. By contrast, the biblical view is that it is a gift from God that is reserved for marriage—not because it is evil prior to that point, but because of the power it has to bring two people together in a way meant to last for the rest of their lives.

So, in some ways, the culture’s approach to sex, where it is upheld as both pleasurable and good for the relationship, is actually closer to the biblical view than the way it’s often portrayed within the church. And that’s a problem.

As with most sins, those shreds of truth are vastly outweighed by the lies of all that’s missing, and countless lives have been devastated by using sex in ways that go against God’s plan. But we shouldn’t be surprised when fear proves a poor deterrent. A better path is to teach the biblical view that upholds all that is good about sex while also giving a clear explanation of why God says it should be reserved for marriage.

If we can get to the point where that becomes the church’s message and our communities are filled with Christian couples who live out that truth, it will necessarily make the culture’s attempts at alternatives seem empty and hollow by comparison.

And while God does not call all of his people to be married, how we speak of sex and live out our relationships with others will either draw people to the biblical view or push them further away.

Which will you choose?

NOTE: Addressing modern challenges in sexuality and gender identity, our latest book, Sacred Sexuality: Reclaiming God’s Design, offers guidance and truth from God’s word. Sacred Sexuality is a vital tool for leaders seeking to navigate these sensitive issues with grace and understanding. So please request your copy today — and discover God’s intention for our most intimate human experiences and relationships.

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Supatman
Publish Date: May 10, 2024

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

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Is AI Stepping into Emotional Territory?