AI and the Future of Humanity

Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity Project 2017-19

August 2017 – the Science & Human Dimension Project is delighted to announce it has been awarded funding from the Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF) for the AI and the Future of Humanity Project. Please see below an overview of the project.

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 aim to draw the humanities into the debates and critiques of these ambitions. The disciplines of the humanities envisaged include 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?

The goal of this project is to explore this and related question through a series of three conferences that bring 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 both the meetings and the subsequent books include academics, religious leaders, researchers in these fields to post-doctoral level, and a wider public. The latter will be facilitated primarily by the journalism produced by representatives of the quality media who will be invited to the meetings, and by the books published after each conference. Outputs of the project include three major conferences; three separate books, one for each conference, that encompass the principal views of the main speakers; conference reports; short films featuring Q&A with speakers; and a range of print and broadcast journalism, including reviews, feature articles, Op-ed pieces, interviews on radio and television. We anticipate that the project will forge 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.

See more information in Upcoming Events.