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4 Key Differences Between Human Beings and AI

I began to consider what “real intelligence” actually is —“real” meaning human in contrast to “artificial” — and decided on four significant characteristics of intelligence that make humans distinct from computers. Contributing Writer
Updated Oct 12, 2023
4 Key Differences Between Human Beings and AI

We hear a lot of talk about artificial intelligence (AI) these days. We hear about how quickly it can provide an answer, all the work that it can do for you, and (at least in some ways) how it might even be better than human intelligence (or, I guess, “real intelligence,” comparatively).

Hopefully, all of the hype stays positive, and AI doesn’t turn on humans, start cloning robots, and take over the world. It is a good thing that is just in the movies, right?

But as I was discussing the idea of AI with my kids during our four-minute ride to school on the way to school one morning (the time that we often have a lot of discussions and solve most of the world's problems), I realized something that I had either never thought of before or forgot about.

I was explaining how AI is a misnomer because the computers and chatbots are simply producing results based on their prior programming — no matter how intricate they are, how dressed up they might be, and how life-like their avatar is.

For example, a faulty response is evidence of faulty programming. A biased response is evidence of the personal or political bias of the programmers. A weird response from someone’s AI chatbot is evidence of some programmer somewhere having a little too much fun.

Is that an extremely rudimentary explanation? Yes. Is it possible that in the future, AI will develop (or degrade) beyond that? Maybe so.

Nevertheless, I began to consider what “real intelligence” actually is (“real” meaning human in contrast to “artificial”) and decided on four significant characteristics of intelligence that make humans distinct from computers.

1. Humans Express Emotions

From the moment we enter life, we are emotionally expressive. Within a short period of time, we frown in our anger, cry in our sadness and disappointment, and smile and laugh with happiness or pleasure.

Sometimes, we stifle those emotions because of trauma. At other times, we get confused because our emotions do not make sense. Still, at other times, we end up overly expressive because of emotional unhealthiness.

In each of these situations, we need healthy, honest friendships or even holistic counseling to help us determine the origin of our emotions, unravel any confusion and disorientation, and learn to express and control our emotions. Nevertheless, the presence of our emotions is part of what makes us human.

While AI may not require emotions to “run,” emotions are healthy and helpful for humans. They help us relieve tension, enjoy life to its fullest, work as catalysts to help us build bonds with others, and even serve as a window into our souls and thermometers for what is going on inside of us.

The human ability to feel emotions is not a coincidence. Not only does Scripture have a lot to say about our human experience of emotion (as one woman wrote in this article), but it is also evidence of an emotional creator who made us in his image (Genesis 1:27).

Machines and computers do not express emotion or get caught up in moments of love, anger, or sadness. They do not feel sorry for you, care about you, or express joy for you.

They can be programmed to spit out specific responses based on specific inputs that seem like emotion, but that is just part of their programming.

On the other hand, in Scripture, we read that our Creator clearly experienced emotions such as anger (Zechariah 1:15, Matthew 21:12-13), sadness (Genesis 6:6; John 11:35), and joy or delight (Psalm 149:4; John 3:16).

Although humans have emotions, we must seek to be aware of what we are feeling, work on discerning why we are feeling them, and evaluate them according to the Bible.

2. Humans Have an Intrinsic Conscience

We all have a conscience from birth. However, that does not necessarily mean that we know “right” from “wrong” from birth. I have been a parent long enough and self-aware enough to know that I do not often know what is exactly right or wrong in a given situation.

That is why God gave us standards and instructions in the Bible in addition to our intrinsic conscience — because we need direction and guidelines.

So, when I say conscience, I mean that we all have ideas of what we would consider “good” and “bad” in life. The problem, however, is that not everything that we put in the good or bad categories is always correct.

Typically, our conscience revolves around what we consider “fair” for us or the people closest to us. For example, we might criticize others for something and call it “wrong” or “bad” while considering the very same thing as “okay,” “excusable,” or even “good” when we do it.

Nevertheless, all humans have that sensibility built in. We innately consider pain and loss as bad and pleasure and increase as good.

A machine does not have this same sense or conscience. Instead, a machine does what it is programmed to do no matter what that is and no matter what environment it is put in.

3. Humans Have Choice

Choice, or free will, may be the most important characteristic that separates machines from humans. While a machine can seem to make a decision between multiple options, it is more simply running computations and algorithms based on whatever factors are present.

It is the “if this is then that” that has been part of programming from the beginning. That’s not a choice. It is simply a trigger, then a response.

To be honest, humans can also seem mechanical or robotic at times. We often make decisions not based on a thorough analysis but based on whatever is right in front of us.

Nevertheless, we still do have a choice. We can be presented with options A, B, or C and decide to choose D. We can be trained a certain way and yet still decide to do differently.

We can, as it were, rise above our “programming.” God created us with a capacity for this free will. That’s a big deal. And it is what separates us from machines the most.

The downside of free will is that humans can choose wrongly (and at times very wrongly). Or, to put it biblically, we can “sin.”

In fact, Paul the apostle, in Romans chapter 3, spells out very clearly that all of humanity has the capacity and tendency to sin. He wrote: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

That leads us to a fourth way that human intelligence will always be different from AI in machines.

4. Humans Sin

Even with the best environment, training, and genetic predisposition, humans still fail morally because of their fallen human nature.

This raises a dilemma that many people have asked — especially those trying to question the Christian faith and the truthfulness of Scripture: why did God create Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with the sovereign knowledge that they would choose the wrong tree and introduce sin to the rest of humanity?

God created humans with free will, knowing they would sin because he wanted children to love and who would choose to love him in return instead of machines that did what they were programmed to do.

And we know that God loves humanity because, along with the knowledge that we would abuse our gift of choice and sin, he developed an infinitely intricate plan to rescue us (Romans 5:8).

No one rescues or loves a machine. You scrap it for parts.

But our sinful nature makes us candidates for God’s grace. Our humanity means that we can be recipients of his salvation. Thank God for our “real” or human intelligence.

For further reading:

How Should Christians Respond to AI? Bias, Decision-Making, and Data Processing

How Should Christians Respond to AI? Its Virtue and a Response to Vervaeke

How Should Christians Respond to AI? Losing Touch with Reality

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Laurence Dutton

Robert Hampshire is a pastor, teacher, writer, and leader. He has been married to Rebecca since 2008 and has three children, Brooklyn, Bryson, and Abram. Robert attended North Greenville University in South Carolina for his undergraduate and Liberty University in Virginia for his Masters. He has served in a variety of roles as a worship pastor, youth pastor, family pastor, church planter, and now Pastor of Worship and Discipleship at Cheraw First Baptist Church in South Carolina. He furthers his ministry through his blog site, Faithful Thinking, and his YouTube channel. His life goal is to serve God and His Church by reaching the lost with the gospel, making devoted disciples, equipping and empowering others to go further in their faith and calling, and leading a culture of multiplication for the glory of God. Find out more about him here.

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