“Artificial Intelligence: Implications for Ethics and Religion” is an exciting one-day conference to be held on January 30, 2020, at Union Theological Seminary (UTS) in New York, in conjunction with the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS), the Riverside Church and the Greater Good Initiative.
New technologies are transforming our world every day, and the pace of change is only accelerating. In coming years, human beings will create machines capable of out-thinking us and potentially taking on such uniquely-human traits as empathy, ethical reasoning, perhaps even consciousness. This will have profound implications for virtually every human activity, as well as the meaning we impart to life and creation themselves. This conference will provide an introduction for non-specialists to Artificial Intelligence (AI): What is it? What can it do and be used for? And what will be its implications for choice and free will; economics and worklife; surveillance economies and surveillance states; the changing nature of facts and truth; and the comparative intelligence and capabilities of humans and machines in the future? Leading practitioners, ethicists and theologians will provide cross-disciplinary and cross-denominational perspectives on such challenges as technology addiction, inherent biases and resulting inequalities, the ethics of creating destructive technologies and of turning decision-making over to machines from self-driving cars to “autonomous weapons” systems in warfare, and how we should treat the suffering of “feeling” machines. The conference ultimately will address how we think about our place in the universe and what this means for both religious thought and theological institutions themselves.
UTS is the oldest independent seminary in the United States and has long been known as a bastion of progressive Christian scholarship. JTS is one of the academic and spiritual centers of Conservative Judaism and a major center for academic scholarship in Jewish studies. The Riverside Church is an interdenominational, interracial, international, open, welcoming, and affirming church and congregation that has served as a focal point of global and national activism for peace and social justice since its inception and continues to serve God through word and public witness. The annual Greater Good Gathering, the following week at Columbia University’s School of International & Public Affairs, focuses on how technology is changing society, politics and the economy – part of a growing nationwide effort to advance conversations promoting the “greater good.”
INTRODUCTION TO AI: 9:00 – 10:30 A.M.
Mark C. Taylor (Moderator)
Chair, Department of Religion, Columbia University. A leading figure in debates about post-modernism, Taylor has written on topics ranging from philosophy, religion, literature, art and architecture to education, media, science, technology and economics.
Consultant and advisor to companies within tech industry, focusing on innovation, public policy, and business strategy, chairs annual conference on Technology, Knowledge, and Society for Commonground Publishing.
Founder of Pi Square AI – a decision design company specializing in AI based systems & algorithms, IoT, Augmented Reality & Robotic Process Automation; founder of The Good AI org to drive awareness and consciousness towards transparency in AI.
ETHICAL IMPLICATIONS: 10:30 A.M. – 12:00 P.M.
John Thatamanil (Moderator)
Associate Professor of Theology & World Religions, John eaches a wide variety of courses in the areas of comparative theology, theologies of religious diversity, Hindu-Christian dialogue, the theology of Paul Tillich, theory of religion, and process theology. He is committed to the work of comparative theology—theology that learns from and with a variety of traditions. Professor Thatamanil’s first book is an exercise in constructive comparative theology. The Immanent Divine: God, Creation, and the Human Predicament. An East-West Conversation provides the foundation for a nondualist Christian theology worked out through a conversation between Paul Tillich and Sankara, the master teacher of the Hindu tradition of Advaita Vedanta.
Michael J. Quinn
Dean of the College of Science and Engineering at Seattle University. In the early 2000s his focus shifted to computer ethics, and in 2004 he published a textbook, Ethics for the Information Age, that explores moral problems related to modern uses of information technology, such as privacy, intellectual property rights, computer security, software reliability, and the relationship between automation and unemployment. The book, now in its eighth edition, has been adopted by more than 125 colleges and universities in the United States and many more internationally.
Max Erik Tegmark
Professor at MIT, co-founder of Future of Life Institute, which advocates for positive use of technology, supporter of the effective altruism movement, has received donations from Elon Musk to investigate existential risk from advanced artificial intelligence.
Author, The Ethical Algorith (2019), about the science of designing algorithms that embed social values like privacy and fairness. Professor, Computer and Information Science Department at the University of Pennsylvania. Founding Director of the Warren Center for Network and Data Sciences, founder and former director of Penn Engineering’s Networked and Social Systems Engineering (NETS) Program.
Director of technology ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara Univ. His work is focused on the ethics of technology, including such topics as AI and ethics, the ethics of technological manipulation of humans, the ethics of mitigation of and adaptation towards risky emerging technologies, and various aspects of the impact of technology and engineering on human life and society, including the relationship of technology and religion (particularly the Catholic Church). Green teaches AI ethics in the Graduate School of Engineering and formerly taught several other engineering ethics courses. He is co-author of the Ethics in Technology Practice corporate technology ethics resources.
ETHICAL/RELIGIOUS IMPLICATIONS: 12:30 – 2:00 P.M.
Serene Jones (Moderator)
A highly respected scholar and public intellectual, the Rev. Dr. Serene Jones is the 16th President of the historic Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. The first woman to head the 182-year-old institution, Jones occupies the Johnston Family Chair for Religion and Democracy. She is a Past President of the American Academy of Religion, which annually hosts the world’s largest gathering of scholars of religion. She is the author of several books including Trauma and Grace and, most recently, her memoir Call It Grace: Finding Meaning in a Fractured World. Jones, a popular public speaker, is sought by media to comment on major issues impacting society because of her deep grounding in theology, politics, women’s studies, economics, race studies, history, and ethics.
Philosopher and leading voice at the intersection of queer, Mormon, and transhumanist thought. She is a board member and former CEO of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, the world’s largest advocacy network for the ethical use of technology and religion to expand human abilities.
Adjunct professor at Holy Names University, PhD in ethics with focus on theological and technological issues.
Ethics, Human-Robot Interaction, Religious Studies, Philosophy Research Associate, Tufts University Human-Robot Interaction Laboratory; Part-time Lecturer, Tufts University Department of Computer Science; PhD. ABD The Study of Religion, Harvard University; Co-author, “Ethics for Psychologists: A Casebook Approach,” (Sage, 2011); Member, Global Initiative for Ethical Considerations in the Design of Autonomous Systems.
Orthodox Rabbi, fellow at Emory University’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion, working on a book with Yeshiva University on robots in the law tentatively titled “Almost Human.”
RELIGIOUS AND THEOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS: 2:00 – 3:30 P.M.
Arnold M. Eisen (Moderator)
Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Since taking office in 2007, Chancellor Eisen has transformed the education of religious, pedagogical, professional, and lay leaders for North American Jewry, with a focus on graduating highly skilled, innovative leaders who bring Judaism alive in ways that speak authentically to Jews at a time of rapid and far-reaching change.
Professor of theology and computer science at St. John’s University, author of “Creating in Our Own Image: Artificial Intelligence and the Image of God.”
Distinguished Research Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics, Graduate TheologicalUniversity; His systematic theology, God–The World’s Future, now in its 3rd edition, has been used as a text book in numerous seminaries around the world. For more than a decade he edited Dialog, A Journal of Theology. Along with Robert John Russell he is the co-founder and co-editor of the journal, Theology and Science, at the GTU’s Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences. Ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Professor of Religious Studies at Manhattan College and author of Apocalyptic AI: Visions of Heaven in Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Robotics (Oxford University Press, 2010), Virtually Sacred: Myth and Meaning in World of Warcraft and Second Life (Oxford University Press, 2014), and Temples of Modernity: Nationalism, Hinduism, and Transhumanism in South Indian Science (Lexington 2018).
Associate Research Fellow and Creative Director at The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is also the author of The Age of AI: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity with Zondervan (March 2020). He writes and speaks on various topics including human dignity, ethics, technology, and artificial intelligence. His writing has been featured at Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, Providence Journal, Light Magazine, and many more.
Associate Professor of Reformed Theology Princeton Theological Seminary. She holds degrees in divinity and economics. Interests and work includes poststructuralist theory, scriptural hermeneutics, political theology, surveillance studies, feminist and queer theologies.