Artificial intelligence and faith

The Annual Muslim-Christian confer- ence organised by the Islamic Unity Forum was held on Monday 11th September at Abrar House. The theme was “Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Faith”. There were three sessions with three speakers each.

Session 1: 10.00 to 12.00

‘I am not a robot.’ – How do we maintain human freedom and agency?
Dr Eve Poole OBE, Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland said: I want to talk about how we solve the problem of control with regards to AI. Humans are unpredictable sometimes.

One of the functions of religion is to make us less wayward. The technolo- gies of religion; prayers, the worship and scriptures ( the Quran and the bible) are about trying to stay close enough to the source of life to be able to be an authentic source. I noticed they are try- ing to look like things that look mystic, emotions and mistakes.

But when you start looking at them to- gether, you realize they are ways to keep the species on track. We should be thinking of what they teach us about the design of AI.

I wrote my book as a Christian on the assumption that my design is done by God. I am designed for God’s end. Others who read the book will have different side of the story. Others with secular views will look at the creation from evolution point of view.

We have to think what the future of AI should be. If we think the human socie- ty is precious then AI should be a sup- plement, a partner because we believe humans have particular role to play in creation. If you have secular views, and believe in the evolution, then given that we have technology now to prolong our survival then AI could be used to help the species. There is also the question of how to stop AI taking the wrong deci- sion. That is one of the uncertainties that make you pause and think if there are other options.

Dr Ali Paya (Academic, Professor and author) asked the question: Is AI a threat to faith? He said: Yes. He said

robots and AI systems are not intelligent in themselves, but their threats are real. Human are entities that are not angels but are endowed with abilities that are not in AI. They have free will, autonomy and agency. Rumi says that your ability to say: I can do this or that shows your freewill. Being in jail curtails the person- al freedom. But the present AI systems threaten those freedoms. How we can safeguard human agency. The most route to face AI threat is to make sure that hu- mans always remains in control. The most powerful tool to keep control is to enhance the understanding of machine work. Regulaitons should be in place to supervise AI work. Isaac Asimov, the Russian born American scientist says there are three laws: the it robot must not harm humans, it must obey orders, it must protect the human existence

Father Nadim Nassar, Syrian-born Christian priest said: Wherever we go there is a screen to guide us. There are challenges with that. There is cyber secu- rity so how safe or literate are we digital- ly?. This needs regulations. I do not be- lieve AI or digital culture is a threat to humanity because every presentation I read is human centric. We put ourselves in the centre. Our departure point is us. What if we do not put humanity in the centre? The threat to to me is that I am becoming self-centred. What happens if I let that go? There is mystery in the gos- pel according to John about a disciple who does not write his name. He is men- tioned as the one whom Jesus loved. The Church believes he is St John. I thought John is arrogant. John chose to drop eve- rything about his identity. How to decen- tralise ourselves? Freedom is not to do what I want, freedom is how not to put myself in the centre. A friend of mine put a challenge to me. He said when you switch off your phone or tablet and look at it; what do you see? Yourself. When you are out of this digital jungle and switch it off, all you see is your face, you in the centre. It shook me when I realised how selfish and narcissistic I was.

This could sound utopic. But it relates to education. Our freedom gives us our humility, the awareness. God loves me not because I achieved something, I am

rich or an engineer. In the digital world we teach ourselves to be influential. But God does not love us because we are influential.

When Jesus was asked: how to become his disciple? He said: deny yourselves, take off your cross and follow me. Denying yourself means placing God in the centre, not yourself. In the Roman world at time of Christ when they put horizontal piece of the cross on the shoulders of the condemned, not even the emperor could free him. Take off your cross, means take the pains of the others

In this business we become imprisoned in our technologies. Finally he says: follow me. This a is a life decision, we bring the love of God to humanity in digital world that is heartless.

Session 2: 12.00 to 14.00

How does AI fit into human evolution? The first speaker was Dr Imran Pan- jwani (Lecturer in Law at Anglia Rus- kin University) who talked about Artifi- cial intelligence and Islam. How does Qur’an view ‘aql, intellect? Qur’an is bold about the use of the intellect

The first of the Qur’anic revelations is the al verse of ‘alaq. The notion is: re- cite, to teach with the pen. The Qur’an wants people to use intellect and to learn. It often asks: Do you not think? Do you not use intellect? Are you going to follow your ancestors?

Narrated by Imam Al Rida: A believer in religion who has no ‘aql, or intellect is not a believer. The Imam re- marked: “When God created the Intel- lect (al-ʿaql), he said to it: “Come for- ward (aqbil),” and it approached (fa- aqbala); then he said to it, “Go back (adbir),” and it retreated (fa-adbara). Then he said: “I did not create anything better than you. We have one basic is- sue: Can Muslims or anyone come with ideas from their sources to guide us on AI? We should engage with everyone with regulating principles.

What is the role of faith or religion in this? Human advancement is manifesta- tion of revelation. Intuition is the first form of revelation (wahy).

God is not going to give this ability to a robot, we can create tools. The pen is mentioned in Qur’an and a whole chap- ter has its name. During prophet’s time there were 17 people who were able to read and write. Artificial intelligence is not different from other doctrines. Human creativity becomes a radiant light. Can AI come with that level of creativity. Is Muslim community mature enough to come up with substantive principles? At faith level we do not have collective unity to tackle big problems like: drug-taking, scholarship is not di- verse enough and religious mind has been over-dependent.

Rev Tim Bull (director of vocations, soft- ware engineer)said:
Three foundations that brought us face to face with computers

Computers work with binaries, 1, 0. Then things developed. We used computers for word processing. Then we had the smart phones, images, movies. Now computers are embedded in cars, tvs, fridgdes etc. The second step in AI is machine learn- ing. We used to create programme and feed it to the machine. The big thing that made the large difference is what is called common crawl.

AI learns with experience. Human beings are amazing. They are good at learning. They are better than the AI. ChatGPT needs to do much to learn. Children can read and write faster than the AI. Also creativity is superior with humans. As for worship, machines cannot do it Machines cannot easily encode human emotions and feelings. If we cannot represent people genuinely machines cannot either.

What do we mean by artificial? There are artificial flowers. Are we creating real intelligence? Or are we creating some- thing that is not intelligent at all?

May be the AI is fooling us, it may be giving us guesses

Dr Frantisek Stech (Charles University, Protestant Theological Faculty) said: In Christianity Jesus urged his people to fear many things; misuse, fabrication. Some have called for ending AI. The goals of AI may not be the same as ours. AI may be a force that may one day defeat us. Humans are anxious that they may end up being the victim. These scenarios are possible, they are difficult to confirm of disprove

There three dimensions to the debate: So- cio- economic, the question of autonomy as there is a lack of distinction between human and machine autonomy and that the future predictions are probable. There are valid reasons to be worried about AI. Christianity offers courage and hope. The fear of AI is more than AI anxiety. Anxie- ty has three shapes; ethical, ritual and ex- istential. The world evolves in the direc- tion of perfection. Fear and anxiety are hindrance of development. Human beings are made more human by the inventions they make Christians should engage in the ethical development of AI. AI then may not be seen as a threat, but a positive development.

Session 3:14.00 to 16.00

The Turing Test – Has AI passed the test and what does that mean?
Dr Marius Dorobantu (Research associ- ate lecturer, theologian at Freed University Amsterdam) said: A year ago a researcher had conversation with AI and he be- came convinced he was speaking to human being. Few months later, ChatGPT was launched. The engineer admitted that what convinced him was that the robot talked about God. He said he was religious. Relevance of religion

is explicit.

There has been division of labour between East Asia and the West on AI. East Asia focussed on the production cycle while the West worked on artificial intelligence.

In Judeo-Christian West, we have taboos about idolatry, It is more acceptable that robots have soul. Our theologies matter in what AI research we are involved in. Different interpretation on faith lead to different opinion on AI

Some will say only humans are created in the image of God. We are sharing some of God’s powers. Others say that making AI is blasphemous. Another group will argue that creating AI is a moral imperative. It helps alleviate health problems and pov- erty. Some say treating AI is idolatry.

Is AI threat to faith? My answer is: No. We can learn lessons whether experiments succeed or fail. We need significant breakthroughs in order to understand AI. It can help us to know ourselves more. AI was regarded a tool of uncovering more about ourselves. It is a tool to programme for the better. Alan Turing, the English mathematician and computer scientist said in 1951: rationality is essential to what we call intelligence. He was right. The biblical idea is interpreted by

computer scientists who attempted to cre- ate self-sufficient computers through pure- ly logical steps. Rationality is a side- effect. Intelligence precedes rationality. What we learnt from computer science is that it is easy to programme them to play chess and other plays. It is more difficult to teach them what every child knows.

We are reluctant to admit that ChatGPt is intelligent even when it passes the Turing Test. Any AI is something of the future. Our standards are constantly improving. Centrality of language in our theologies is important. For Turing the computer is in- telligent and it can think. External behav- iour is not all there is. People often do wrong things with good intentions. Inten- tions matter most. It is important that ac- tions come from consciencious self.

Dr Laith Kubba (the Qur’an Foundation) said: Our task is to bring to light the values of AI and faith. AI was on agenda on G20 meeting in India. Should we fear losing control? Yes, also on nuclear weapons, Covid etc. We need to spread awareness. We must be versed in three areas with their own concepts: Science, faith and wis- dom Science leads to faith and be- lief. What does science tell us about intel- ligence? There is intelligence in all the creation. Echo systems, balances and di- versity are evidence of intelligence. There is intelligence in the universe. Scientists look at it to connect with the metaphysics. In my early life I saw the valves that trans- form into transistors and then ICs. We are

under an avalanche of intelligence. Every thing around us will be digital. We are at the onset of a digital world. AI will sur- pass us. It has better memory.

Science does not give us answers to ques- tions about God, where we are going or religious values. In Abrahamic faiths, the point of departure is: do we recognise that universe has a purpose? Science acknowl- edges the universe.

I like to introduce Qur’anic approach. The only way to understand Qur’an is through deeper understanding of sciences. What are the basic Qur’anic concepts? God is the supreme, the physical world is unified according to a book, that the book is from God and that the world is created based on that book. To read the nature, you need the lens of science. To read Qur’an you need collective human awareness to read the text. Qur’an gives distinct definitions: 1- we are carers of the earth and masters, 2- there are extra-terrestrial beings, the jinn. There is whole surah about that.

It also talks about the angels. They are supreme artificial intelligence. They do not disobey God.
3- We are elevated by the Qur’an.

What we know is that the creation of hu- mans was based on their capacity. They became custodians of the earth based on knowledge. Human progress requires faith and scientific input. To bring this to light we need to look at faith beyond the herit- age and through the lens of science.

Dr Amina Inloes (academic, lecturer and author) talked about the concepts of Evo- lution. Many Muslims work to ensure harmony between Islam and sci- ence. What has been discussed is progres- sive. One speaker said that his speeches about robotics and their destruction of earth are listened to widely. The Qur’anic discussion on Satan are fascinating. God says: Do not fear Satan but fear me. We should not fear Satan, robots, AI or any- thing but Allah. Things tend to react in the way they are treated.

Theological concerns and responses are genuine. Artificial intelligence is linked to Evolution. We treat that within Darwin- ism. It could link to biological beings. We can extend it to robots. Then we have evolution of the machine. Evolution is presented in terms of selection as we were taught. The broadest sense in Islam is when Imam Mahdi comes. It will be the clearest evolution. Evolution can take various trajectories; selecting the survival, reproduction of species.

Many Muslim thinkers adopted the view that history is a force of change and im- provement and that individuals or species are seeking perfection through Evolution in general. Intelligent robots will be the

next step of human beings. Could that happen? People feel they want to create what they want. The drive to create goes beyond the financial interests. If we were to create new species, it is fine from faith perspective Things are hap- pening according to a plan. We need to build shared consciousness

Full record of the event
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