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East-Asia and Beyond Conference on AI Ethics Makes Major Connections

Hong Kong Baptist University’s “Ethical and Social Implications of Artificial Intelligence: East-Asia and Beyond” conference brought international scholars together in Hong Kong from March 31 to April 2 to discuss various cultural, religious and philosophical issues arising from new AI technologies. Jointly sponsored by HKBU’s Centre for Applied Ethics and the Religion and Philosophy Department, this was the first major international conference held at the university since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. AI and Faith Contributing Fellow Levi Checketts was the driving force in organizing the conference.

Keynote speakers for the conference were Carl Mitcham, International Professor of Philosophy at Renmin University and co-editor of Theology and Technology, and Karen Hao, Chinese-technology journalist for the Wall Street Journal and former AI reporter for MIT Tech Review. Other scholars came from Thailand, South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, China, New Zealand, Germany, the UK and the US. Because of HKBU’s unique heritage as a public university with a religious charter, the event was able to bring together ethicists whose backgrounds were not only interdisciplinary, but also interreligious to discuss concerns from Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist, Daoist, and Confucian perspectives.

The range of topics was impressively diverse: some speakers discussed more general questions of AI design and philosophy, while others addressed more practical concerns such as the lack of African American Vernacular English in Large Language Models, the exploitation of data taggers in poor countries, and the use of AI in religious ritual in both Buddhist and Christian contexts.

The Future of Life Institute’s “open letter” on AI released earlier in the week set the tone for the conference, but the general theme in the conference was guarded acceptance of AI. While existent and potential ethical issues of AI were raised – including overreliance, transparency, justice, ecological impact and rights – they were framed as “guard rails” for designing and implementing morally upright AI. Thus, the key takeaway from the conference might be: we must not let the dreams (or panics) associated with AI distract from the real problems surrounding us.

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