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AI&F’s Mission Evolves with Rapid Growth in Faith Perspectives on AI

Each month we are seeing more and more articles and books about the impact of Artificial Intelligence on our lives.  Increasingly, faith perspectives are appearing.  Two cases in point:  the publication in January of Religious Transhumanism and Its Critics and this month of a special issue of the Journal of Moral Theology dedicated to AI ethics and theology.  Both are edited by Advisors of AI and Faith and include numerous essays by members and associates of our expert community.  One has two dozen essays, the other a dozen.  Such collective efforts are both informative and encouraging.

But by and large, faith perspectives on AI remain deeply siloed.  More than ever, AI and Faith’s mission is identifying, encouraging, connecting and equipping these efforts, both among AI technologists and related professionals, and with faith-oriented leaders and ethicists.

When AI and Faith began in 2018, secular perspectives on the ethics of artificial intelligence were emerging everywhere.  The Partnership on AI launched in San Francisco with dozens of global partners.  New AI ethics initiatives appeared monthly at universities and NGO’s around the world.  Israeli historian and cultural story weaver Yuval Harari’s  Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow dominated best seller lists. And Big Tech was jumping on the bandwagon by opening corporate ethics offices to manage, if not explore, this burgeoning call for a global ethics discussion around the power of AI to change lives for better or worse.

Far less evident in the AI ethics landscape of 2018 were perspectives from technology professionals and ethicists, theologians and philosophers drawing on theology and religious belief.  That is why a dozen such experts founded AI and Faith on a multidisciplinary, pluralist foundation in Seattle in 2018.

Fortunately, just as AI&F has grown globally over the past four years, the broader faith perspectives landscape has evolved as well to include numerous new organizations, consortia, and important individual voices.  To name just a representative few, these include:

Articles, books, and podcasts are emerging weekly and monthly with fresh perspectives on the benefits and risks that AI-powered applications pose for faith mission and the lives of faithful people.  Generating content remains highly important but is no longer the heavy lift of four years ago. What remains challenging is the largely siloed nature of this world of faith perspectives and the absence of vehicles like major conferences; cross-organizational publishers and conversations; pluralist and multidisciplinary dialogue; and a common understanding of issues to help build connections across this siloed landscape.  That is why AI and Faith has elevated “identifying, connecting, encouraging and equipping”  creators and leaders in the technology sector and leaders of faith communities to better learn about and discuss faith perspectives on AI ethics as our primary mission at this stage of our organizational growth.

Making such connections and highlighting emerging voices has been a major part of AI and Faith’s mission from the beginning.  The growth of our own community of experts to over 90 AI tech professionals, researchers, related science and business professionals, and faith scholars and leaders in 8 countries and on four continents evidences our success in that mission.  So do the 90-plus articles by and about our experts in our on-line archive.  But beyond our own community, we have always been interested in extending ties to other networks.

Our reorganization of AI&F under a think tank model with Research Fellows (11), Contributing Fellows (15), and Advisors (65+) has better equipped us to continue to build connections within our own community and to reach out to new formal and informal partners.  As discussed in our January Newsletter, we are following an active Network of Networks approach to build bridges and promote a common identification of the issues most central to faith perspectives.

On the issues front, a common understanding of answers to those issues is not our goal – robust pluralism to AI and Faith is all about a vigorous marketplace of ideas, rather than a negotiation seeking common understanding.  But building discussion on key questions across the world of faith perspectives on AI can significantly advance and amplify the contribution of faith perspectives to the secular discussion.  We continue to focus our efforts on promoting  values and teachings we believe are shared by many of the world’s great religions, specifically:

  • The worth of human life and the dignity of every individual;
  • Societal justice and meaningful community; and
  • Liberty and choice.

To be sure, one can and do hold these values without adhering to a faith. But with nearly 85 percent of humans worldwide espousing some religious affiliation, we believe that the world’s major faiths offer a structure and vocabulary that allow us to have these critical conversations at a global scale, in conjunction with current global secular ethics discussions around these issues.

So how are we as a community of experts coming alongside other networks, individuals and leaders of faith organizations in our mission to “connect, encourage, and equip” their work as well as our own? Here are some of our active projects:

  • More opportunities to support the work of experts and faith leaders within and outside our own networks, by publishing every other day on social media news of key conferences, studies and projects; third party articles; and our own Features, all still to be collected into an end-of-month Newsletter.,
  • Organizing for next November’s Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion a multidisciplinary panel of futurists, cultural interpreters, and diverse theologians to discuss the future of religion in a robust AI-inflected culture, using as a starting point the scenarios imagined in Kai-fu Lee’s best seller AI 2041.
  • Developing and arranging sponsorship at next month’s National Faith ERG Conference in Washington, DC, two panels on finding connections between personal faith beliefs and employer ethics around AI for human flourishing, featuring tech creators working in the trenches and senior management.
  • Catalyzing a “Call to Action” steering committee of Christian tech leaders to study and report on what AI ethics issues are critical for long term consideration and support, and seeking to engage other faiths in the same kind of process growing out of their key belief systems.

A great way to help us “de-silo” faith perspectives on AI is to join one of our Contributing Fellow Teams:  Content, Programs, Communications and Networking.   Soon we’ll be posting specific opportunities about those and other ways to engage with us and our Network of Networks.  Meanwhile, it’s great to be enjoying the fruit of our recent reorganization in this very important conversation.

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