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Sep 12, 2023

The Promise and Perils of Artificial Intelligence: New Frontiers for World Religions (video)

Religious leaders from around the world discuss the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on human flourishing.

By Templeton Staff

Unprecedented technological advancement is compelling humanity to confront ideas about morality. This video examines how artificial intelligence (AI) — the ability of machines to perform tasks that are typically associated with human intelligence, such as learning and problem-solving — raises profound ethical questions from a faith perspective. Leaders from religious traditions across the globe describe how their faiths view technology and what AI could mean for the future of human flourishing.

Watch the above video to hear leaders from various religious traditions describe how their respective faith views technology.

Religion, Ethics, AI and Flourishing
While AI has immense potential to enhance human flourishing by reducing repetitive work, improving access to knowledge, and revolutionizing fields such as medicine, like all technologies, it also has the potential for dangerous misuse. With Pause Giant AI Experiments: An Open Letter, more than 1300 tech industry leaders, academic researchers, and industry CEOs recently urged AI labs to temporarily stop the training of powerful AI systems, citing risks to society.

Technology may seem to fall far from the purview of religious and spiritual tradition, yet  a growing number of religious leaders have been voicing concern about this topic and are laying foundations for a positive path forward.

To assert that "my religious tradition is not interested in being a moral force on all matters, but only on particular matters dooms a religion to what I call ethical obsolescence," says David Zvi Kalman, Scholar in Residence and Director of New Media, Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. "We are going to see multi-faith work around technology which looks unlike anything that we have seen in the past because it is coming out of a place of real interfaith, multi-faith grappling around core ideas of morality,” he shares.

Potential Threats to Human Flourishing
Many faith leaders are apprehensive about technology's current focus on consumerism. They fear this emphasis may be encouraging anti-social behavior and may harm mental health. "We're seeing the big tech companies encroaching more and more on different aspects of human life. And this is an ethical concern," says Rt. Revd. Dr. Steven Croft, Bishop of OxfordFounding Board Member, Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. He's wary of AI's impact on economic disparities due to automation.

Muhammad Aurangzeb, PhD, Professor of Computer Science, University of Washington describes trust issues arising from AI's extraordinary ability to generate photographically convincing, yet false images and documents. He wonders how “democracy will survive if such technologies are unleashed.”

There's a threat, many of these leaders believe, in losing our humanity to the the machines if intelligences are left unchecked. "We now have created beings, possibly, that can surpass us," notes Revd. Dr. Harriet Harris, University Chaplain, University of Edinburgh. "It's important to pay attention to human values and dignity."

Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman, Founding Director, Sinai and Synapses, points out what he calls “the alignment problem.” He questions how we can ensure AI is pursuing goals aligned with human flourishing. He suggests we should be aware of the possibility that artificial intelligence could eventually “have its own goals in contradistinction and maybe even destructive of what humanity wants.”

Father Paolo Benanti, Professor of Ethics and Moral Theology, Pontifical Gregorian University, Vatican sees the advancement of AI as “connected to justice and to human rights. It's connected to a lot of important things crucial for religions, and also for civil society.”

An Interfaith, Intercultural Effort to Make AI Safer Without Impeding Progress
In 2020, the renAIssance Foundation, a group of organizations led by the Vatican launched The Rome Call for AI Ethics to address these concerns. The group seeks to promote a sense of responsibility among governments, businesses, and institutions around the ethical development of AI technologies. Major companies like IBM, world governments, universities, and representatives from 3 of the world's major religions are signatories. The "interreligious and intercultural" effort is working toward "a future in which digital innovation and technological progress serve human genius and creativity and not their gradual replacement." In the video, Benanti, who serves as Scientific Director of renAIssance, elucidates the group's core principles: Transparency, Inclusion, Accountability, Impartiality, Reliability, and Security and Privacy, which can also be found on their website.

AI's Potential Positive Impact on Flourishing
“One of the byproducts of studying artificial intelligence is that we gain an even deeper awe and respect for human beings as conscious beings with multiple intelligences emotional, intellectual, musical, and artistic,” says Croft. He is optimistic about religions becoming involved in the ethics of AI. “Faith-based leaders can bring a broader perspective to this area,” he says. 

“Kind intelligence is helpful for everyone,” says Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, Abbot, Ka Nying Shedrub Ling Monastery, Kathmandu, Nepal. “What gives me the most hope is if we are careful and if we use technology in the right places it can alleviate a lot of human misery. It can cure people, and it can even enable larger access to knowledge,” says Junaid Qadir, PhD, Professor of Computer Engineering, Qatar University, Doha, Qatar. 

“Traditions around the world will ultimately come to one idea about how we ought to relate to AI,” says Zvi Kalman. “We may not fully agree, but there's more commonality than difference between religions when it comes to the fundamental things about what enables flourishing what enables us to live the meaningful purposeful lives that we're called to live,” says Harris.

In addition to the speakers quotes above, the video features clips with:  Professor Aviad Hacohen, President, Academic Centre for Law and Science, IsraelPhilip Larrey, PhD, Chair of Logic and Epistemology, Pontifical Lateran University, VaticanBrad Smith, President and Vice Chairman, MicrosoftDr. Hamza Yusuf, President, Zaytuna College, Berkeley, CADr. Zeshan Zafar, Executive Director, Forum for the Promotion of Peace in Muslim Societies, Abu Dhabi.

Listen to the podcast featuring these leaders.

This video, produced by journalist and senior media executive Richard Sergay's Rebel Media, is related to Templeton World Charity Foundation's Diverse Intelligences (DI) Priority. DI is a multiyear, global effort to understand a world alive with brilliance in many forms. Its mission is to promote open-minded, forward-looking inquiry in animal, human, and machine intelligences. We collaborate with leading experts and emerging scholars from around the globe, developing high-caliber projects that advance our comprehension of the constellation of intelligences.