Think Tank (6/2023)
(L-R) Shaykh Ahmed El Azhary, Luca Farrow, Father David Garcia, O.P.
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AI and the Future of Humanity: Challenges and Opportunities for a Plural Society
30 Oct 2023

The Studies in Inter-Religious Relations in Plural Societies (SRP) Programme held a  seminar on 30 October 2023 titled “Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Future of Humanity: Challenges and Opportunities for a Plural Society”. Hosted by the Catholic Theological Institute of Singapore (CTIS), the seminar was moderated by SRP’s senior analyst, Luca Farrow, and featured two scholars from different religious traditions who weighed in on the subject: Father David Garcia, O.P., lecturer at CTIS; and Shaykh Ahmed El Azhary, Visiting Fellow at the Tabah Foundation.

Fr. Garcia began his sharing session by asking: does the Church have something to offer in ongoing discussions about AI? Appealing to the wisdom of past and present popes, he highlighted two main approaches to this question. Firstly, to be conscious that technology “comes in a package” and is never neutral. Its uses remain tethered to human bias and prejudice. Secondly, to remain alert against technocracy — a consequence of unfettered technological leaps. Here, what is considered true is often unreflexively accepted because of an overreliance on technology to determine it. With these in mind, Fr. Garcia concluded that the best contribution religion can have in debates over AI is by asking the right questions – a contemplative and reflexive alternative to the hyperbole that may accompany technological progress.

Shaykh Ahmed then reiterated that technological advancements carry many unknown and even harmful implications for humanity. He underscored how transformative technological advancements often “enable actions that are easily divorced from their consequences” — of which AI’s actions remain ever abound. Having conducted social experiments with AI software, like Midjourney, Shaykh Ahmed recounted how AI-generated “religious” content makes existing problems of religious literacy, authenticity, and authority more pronounced. For example, AI can fabricate religious content in a deceptively authentic manner. If weaponised, this would make the ramification of AI on ongoing religious contestations more concerning to faith communities.

The seminar concluded with a lively Q&A segment. With further significant advancement of AI being almost inevitable, both religious scholars believed that religious groups should not ignore such an emerging reality. Fr. Garcia expressed how engaging with AI directly is the morally right step to take for all religious traditions. Otherwise, they will only allow entities with questionable motives to take the reins of the technology. Similarly, Shaykh Ahmed urged scholars from different religious traditions to neither be dismissive nor antagonistic to technological progress in order to maintain their religious authority against cynical challenges.

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