Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity Project 2017-19

Artificial Intelligence and the
Future of Humanity Project 2017-19


SHDP ran the AI and the Future of Humanity Project from 2017-19 with funding from Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF)

Project Overview

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has entered a new era in which machines are no longer constrained by programming, but exhibit self-learning capabilities with ever increasing speed and capacity. The aim of Artificial Intelligence at its most ambitious is to achieve a “Singularity”, or Artificial General Intelligence – i.e., to outstrip human intelligence. Future goals of AI research speculate about the possibility of a “transhuman” condition—in other words, enhanced humanity. In this project we aimed to draw the humanities into the debates and critiques of these ambitions. The disciplines of the humanities included literary studies, philosophy of mind and of religion, anthropology, cultural studies, and theology.

So far the debates about the impact of AI and critiques of AI’s influence have been largely confined within the disciplines of computer science, social sciences and economics, and therefore primarily quantitative in emphasis, as well as being primarily focused on practical applications such as security, defence, and social welfare. This is clearly visible in texts such as Martin Rees’s Our Final Century (2003), Ray Kurzweil’s The Age of Spiritual Machines (1999), Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence – Paths, Dangers, Strategies (2014), and Murray Shanahan’s Technological Singularity (2015). There is therefore an urgent need for well-informed qualitative assessments of the potential impact of AI from the humanities, including from theology and spirituality.

Artificial General Intelligence works on the hypothesis that technology will replicate, and even outstrip, not only human intelligence generally, but specific human faculties such as imagination, consciousness, and agency. To what extent will these ambitions match, challenge, demoralise, or perhaps even aid these faculties as understood by disciplines within the humanities, including those that deal with moral and spiritual dimensions of life?

Project Goals

The goal of this project was to explore this and related question through a series of three conferences that brought together representatives of AI research along with scholars from the broad span of the humanities, preceded by a series of meetings with leading figures in each area. Our target audiences for the meetings included academics, religious leaders, researchers in these fields to post-doctoral level, and a wider public.

Outputs of the Project

The outputs of the Project include three major conferences; books that encompass the principal views of the main speakers; conference reports; short films featuring Q&A with speakers (available via the homepage); and a range of journalism.

AI and the Humanities

The project forges links between the AI communities and the humanities to ensure that the humanities—including philosophy of religion, anthropology of religion, and theology—as well as religious leaders become part of the conversation and the debate about artificial intelligence and the future of humanity.

AI in Science Fiction Film and Literature – SHDP Conference Report

Read about the ideas discussed at our March 2018 meeting here: AI in Sci Fi – Science and Human Dimension Project Conference Report

The Singularity Summit – SHDP Conference Report

An overview of the talks and discussions at our September 2018 meeting here: Singularity Summit – Conference Report Science and Human Dimension Project

AI – Ethical and Religious Perspectives – SHDP Conference Report

Executive summary and write up of the talks and discussions at our May 2019 meeting: AI Ethical and Religious Perspectives – Conference Report Science and Human Dimension Project