Module 6: Technology and the Church covered relationships between contemporary technology and the LDS church, and explored the usage of that technology in furthering the work of salvation.

November 19

  • It's always been interesting by Brigham Young's assertion that "every discover in science ... has been given with a view to prepare the way for the ultimate triumph of truth." It seems like there are a huge amount of technological advancements that don't (or haven't yet?) served the mission of the church. Some technologies are misappropriated for evil purposes (pornography) and others just don't seem to have much religious application (space travel). Does this maybe imply that we as a Church could be doing a far better job at taking advantage of the available technology to serve our eternal aims?
  • One question worth exploring (and difficult to measure!) is the effect on conversion of different methods of gospel learning. How does reading about doctrine on Mormon.org compare to talking personally with missionaries or friends? Does the focus on digital communication or missionary work detract from the experience individuals have as they learn about the gospel, and if so, what could be done to compensate for its effect? If it is objectively worse, how are we to balance the convenience and acceptance of online communication with our goals of deep personal conversion?
  • On an individual level, I'm really fascinated by the relationship between technological dependence and personal growth. As we "rely more on technology in helping to manage the kingdom" (source), how can we make sure we're not simply offloading our personal responsibility to technology?

December 1

Stephen Richardson guest-spoke about how the Church leverages technology to aid translation.

  • Richardson mentioned that sometimes, the same English word(s) are translated into other languages as different words. This stuck out to me, as it demonstrates that translation is an imprecise science and requires intense coordination. Especially because the church deals with documents where lots of meaning sometimes hinges on individual words, machine-aided translation verification to make sure words are always translated identically is really a pretty big deal. Ethically, it would be pretty easy to mislead an entire language-speaking group due to a mistranslation.
  • Some translators (especially those in more remote or third-world countries) still translate with paper and pencil due to lack of availability of computers. I found this to illustrate the necessity to consider those without access to the latest developments, often overlooked when designing technology-aided solutions. (for example, Facebook recently realized that Facebook really sucked on slow cellular networks, which is all there is in some places).
  • The Church maintains huge models for machine-assisted translation that were trained on the religious vocabulary they use. Some of the training data is text they don't have permission to distribute—for example, copyrighted bible translations, for example. In a machine-learning era, what constitutes ethical use for training data? Is it fair to use stuff for training that you don't have rights to, given that the translations you'll claim to own are a direct derivative of that data?

December 3

  • I appreciated Elder Bednar's call for authenticity in sharing the gospel via technology. I've seen both people sharing testimony for the sake of sharing testimony, and people whose contributions feel driven by their natural desire to share the gospel, and it amounts to a huge difference. As someone who doesn't publicly share much, I've often wondered about the ethics of inviting others to participate in social media, without consideration for the authenticity that would result.
  • Among such spiritually-focused advice, "respect intellectual property" stood out as downright pedestrian. The church generally takes a pretty open approach to things it owns rights for, but a lot of the popular memes on social media platforms feature imagery or text blocks from other sources. It's hard to criticize that, especially knowing how well-meaning the posters have been, so it's good the Church is aware of it.
  • Technology generally has made our lives increasingly public, and that visibility has made the "Sunday Mormon syndrome" seem especially hypocritical. It's jarring to see an inspirational post about the Savior juxtaposed against photos from a sketchy rock concert on someone's feed, and it detracts from the intended message of both posts. How might our communication style online need to change to ensure that we aren't sabotaging our own efforts to be sincere by appearing inconsistent?

December 8

Craig Miller, the Vice President of FamilySearch International, was a guest speaker.

  • The big question here: where's the line between sacrifice and automation in family history? Some blessing comes in serving some dead person, but some is in the personal sacrifice involved in researching ancestry. Would excessive use of technology elide the source of the personal growth, or might augmenting the research process open up opportunities to become familiar with the details and stories in ancestors' lives?
  • Interesting to consider the effect on those whose work is being done. If I were them, I'd be overjoyed to have my ordinances finished and barriers removed, regardless of whether the ordinance worker cared much about me. If doing temple work is reduced to clicking a button and doing the baptism, are we encouraging this kind of attitude (obviously endowments are different because they take forever).
  • Miller talked about what are essentially marketing campaigns on Sunday afternoons, and discussed user studies they do to understand what triggers most encourage people to log in and do work. Does this reduce temple work to a mere stimulus-response model? Maybe the goal of getting the work done weighs more than the personal effects on the workers?