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Ought a Steward Leader Use ChatGPT? By Dr. Al Hearne

Starting the Conversation About Using ChatGPT

In my lifetime, I have seen three primary responses to adopting new technology like ChatGPT. Some people love and immediately use it, some are apprehensive and slowly try it, and some reject it. Yet over time, the new technology becomes commonly used by the masses. Rarely have I ever heard, read, or participated in honest conversations about the far-reaching implications of wholesale adoption of new technology. For example, no one at Bethany College in the mid-1990s debated the consequences of using the Internet for research purposes, our professors encouraged it, and we did.

Let’s Start the Conversation

My goal with this blog is to start a conversation regarding the moral obligation (the ought) of using ChatGPT. I only claim to know about some of the far-reaching implications of its use. I am not an expert in Artificial Intelligence, nor am I a technology expert.

I am a Godly steward, a steward leader, and a practitioner who uses technology. I am a teacher, and I run a private Christian school. Therefore, my interest in artificial intelligence involves our moral obligation to skill development, honesty, the accuracy of the information, bias of the algorithm programmers, copyright infringement, and user privacy. I am framing this conversation around the word ought while explaining my love of technology, my beliefs as a steward leader, and my internal struggle with using ChatGPT.

Just Because We Can Doesn’t Mean We Should

In the spring of 2003, I attended a debate at Stanford University regarding the ethics of stem cell research, and the only thing I remember from it was the opening statement from the only Christian on the debate panel, Dr. Robert Evans. He was the last of five speakers, and how he started amazed me. He said, “All my colleagues here today have misunderstood the question. Each has introduced the topic ‘Should we engage in stem cell research?’

This question is wrong; it starts at the back and works to the front. It should imply we can do it and are debating a proper or appropriate action. Just because we can do stem cell research does not mean we ought to do stem cell research. We are not debating the ethical principles of stem cell research; we are debating the moral imperative of stem cell research.

Therefore, the correct question is, “OUGHT we engage in stem cell research as people created in the image of God?” That day, Dr. Evans taught me the importance of the difference between the words ought and should and the difference between starting with a moral imperative versus starting with ethical principles.

I contacted Dr. Evans to see what he thinks about using ChatGPT. He stated that ethics is a practical application of a moral commitment and that starting with ethical questions regarding ChatGPT will only create unintended quandaries, such if ChatGPT becomes so advanced that it becomes an artificial human with legal standing. The proper starting place is to clarify the moral commitment: just because something can be done does not mean it ought to be done (Dr. Robert Evans, personal communication, June 26, 2023).

Therefore, following in the footsteps of Dr. Robert Evans, I submit to you, “Ought a steward leader engage in the use of ChatGPT (or other AI platforms)?”

My Lifelong Love of Technology

I am an early adopter of technology. I love technology; I have loved it for my entire life. I remember my dad bringing home a TRS 80 computer from his public school classroom when I was three years old (1980) and playing games from a “tape” drive. The first computer owned by the Hearne family was a Christmas present from my grandfather in 1981. I remember buying my first computer with money in 1985, an Atari 800X. I loved that computer EVEN THOUGH IT NEVER WORKED right. Yet this computer taught me the technology troubleshooting skills I still use today.

I remember using the Internet at the Central Valley Christian High School library in 1994. I remember getting in line at 3 am to purchase my first iPhone on July 11, 2008 (in full disclosure, although I remember waiting in line, I had to ask ChatGPT what day the iPhone 3 was released; ChatGPT, personal communication, June 25, 2023).

I remember the first time I used ChatGPT on January 17, 2023. Mr. Wilcox (who teaches Middle School Science at Redwood Christian Schools) asked me what I thought about the ramifications of ChatGPT’s use in education. Although I had been reading about it, I had never seen it in action, so I asked him to demonstrate what it could do. After showing me some things he had done, Mr. Wilcox said, “What do you want to ask?”

I wanted to test it, so I asked ChatGPT to write a problem statement based on my dissertation topic, Christian school superintendent transition practices. I typed into ChatGPT, “Write a problem statement about school superintendent transition practices.” To my amazement, in mere seconds, it produced this: Problem Statement: Despite the critical role that school superintendents play & in shaping the education of students, there is a lack of effective transition practices to ensure a smooth transition when a new superintendent takes over. This can lead to disruptions in leadership, confusion among staff and students, and a lack of continuity in educational policies and programs. ChatGPT, personal communication, January 17, 2023

At that moment, I instantly realized that ChatGPT appeared to be far more powerful than Google and had more potential to change the trajectory of human knowledge than the emergence of the Gutenberg Printing Press and the emergence of the Internet if their impact were multiplied. In mere seconds, ChatGPT created a dissertation problem statement. However, it was not perfect and would need editing and revising. Yet, it was very similar to mine, which probably took me 20 hours of reading, thinking, writing, editing, and revising.

I instantly realized that this is an “ought” moment, probably the most significant “ought” moment of using technology in my lifetime. How, as a steward leader, would I respond to this powerful new technology?

Being a Steward Leader

According to R. Scott Rodin (2013), a steward leader does not focus on what skills or principles a person uses to lead. Instead, a steward leader is focused upon “who God is, and what that means for our self-understanding and our vocation as image bearers of God who are called to lead” (p. 7.) Furthermore, an image bearer is first called to be a Godly steward living in relationship to God, self, neighbor, and creation. Godly stewards are responsible to God for how they use their time, treasure, talent, and relationships. Godly stewards will one day give God an accounting of how they have lived as a steward. God also calls Godly stewards to lead, thus making them both Godly stewards and steward leaders. A steward leader’s focus is not on how to lead but on leading as a Godly steward. Rodin says that steward leaders are daily focused upon four disciplines which are:

  • pray for a personal restoration of a thirst for intimacy with God;
  • affirm their self-image, asking God to change their heart from self-confidence to God-confidence;
  • see their neighbors as God sees them;
  • submit every aspect of their lives to the Lordship of Christ (pp. 181-182).

Therefore, what ought to be a steward leader’s response to ChatGPT?

Living as a Steward Leader in the Age of ChatGPT

I started teaching 7th-grade English and 8th-grade math in 2002. On the one hand, it appears that teachers who require students to write “text” now must deal with the same technological advancement that math teachers have dealt with as calculators have become more and more powerful. As a math teacher, I always looked for calculator use in homework. As an English teacher, I could tell if the writing was not from my student.

On the other hand, there are many far-reaching implications of using ChatGPT. I typed into ChatGPT, “Ought a steward leader use ChatGPT,” and it responded with

I don’t possess personal opinions or beliefs as an AI language model. Whether a steward leader should use it or any other tool depends on various factors, including context, purpose, and ethical considerations. It is important for steward leaders to carefully evaluate the potential benefits and risks associated with using AI technologies.

Steward leaders are responsible for acting in the best interests of their organizations, teams, and stakeholders. They should consider the impact of their actions on the well-being and development of their employees, the organization’s values and goals, and the ethical implications of using AI in their decision-making processes.

When contemplating using ChatGPT or similar AI tools, steward leaders should assess data privacy, bias, transparency, accountability, and the potential impact on human interactions and relationships. They should also ensure that AI aligns with their organization’s values, promotes fairness, and enhances their teams’ and stakeholders’ overall well-being and success.

In summary, deciding whether a steward leader ought to use ChatGPT or any other AI tool requires careful consideration of the specific circumstances, ethical considerations, and the potential impact on individuals and the organization. Steward leaders must prioritize ethical decision-making and act to uphold the best interests and values of their organization and the people they serve. (ChatGPT, personal communication, June 25, 2023)

Therefore, it appears that even ChatGPT recognizes the importance of having honest, meaningful conversations about whether or not a steward leader should use ChatGPT.

Steward Leader Conversation Starters

I love using technology, and on the surface level, I think that ChatGPT is a powerful research assistant. It can save time because it provides a targeted search result. Yet, I am struggling with the moral imperative of fully embracing it because it can go beyond mere research.

I have been compiling this list of questions to help start a conversation about the ought to use ChatGPT.

  • What does it mean to be human?
  • What does it mean to “love the Lord your God with … all your mind” (Luke 10:27, ESV, 2001)?
  • What does it mean to be “to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, ESV, 2001)?
  • Can it become so advanced that it becomes human?
  • Can it become an artificial human?
  • Does using it take away from our humanity?
  • Ought it be embraced?
  • Ought it be banned?
  • Ought it be used in limited, targeted ways? If so, who gets to decide these limited, targeted ways?
  • What are the implications of using ChatGPT?
  • What are the potential unforeseen consequences of using it?
  • How does a person know the accuracy of the information generated by it?
  • Is there a difference between ChatGPT and using a human editor/proofreader?
  • Is using it a legitimate research methodology?
  • Is using it cheating? Does this change if the user cites ChatGPT as the source?
  • Is using it plagiarism? Does this change if the user cites ChatGPT as the source?
  • Is using it copyright infringement?
  • Will using it results in legal issues for businesses?
  • When should a person disclose that ChatGPT was used?

So, what do you think, ought a steward leader use ChatGPT?

(Click here to read what ChatGPT “thinks” about this blog post.)

References

Rodin, R. S. (2013). The steward leader. InterVarsity Press.

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Dr. Al Hearne II is the Superintendent of Redwood Christian Schools, the Center for Steward Leader Studies President, and an adjunct professor for Columbia International University. He holds a Master’s of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Columbia International University. Most importantly, he is the husband of Megan and the father of Oscar, Stephen, and Elliot!


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