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Interview with Jasjit Singh

AI and Faith interviews Dr. Jasjit Singh, Associate Professor in the School of Philosophy, Religion and the History of Science (PRHS) at the University of Leeds, UK. He researches the religious and cultural lives of South Asians in Britain, with a particular focus on ‘Religious and Cultural transmission.’ For more information, visit his website:

Are there scriptural elements in Sikhi that relate to the creation and use of Artificial Intelligence?

The first thing to highlight is that the Guru Granth Sahib – the key text for Sikhs – isn’t just a scripture. It’s regarded as a living source of wisdom, a living Guru, which contains poetic verses about the human condition. The Guru Granth Sahib doesn’t contain the history of the Sikh tradition, and there are no specific passages about AI. But what you can see historically, is that Sikhs have been quick adapters of technology. Technology is generally seen as a tool that should be used for good.

Rather than talking about AI specifically, the Guru Granth Sahib talks about the importance of intention when using a tool. In the Sikh tradition, there’s this real emphasis on the oneness of humanity, of recognizing that other human beings and creation itself is one thing. If the use of the tool is leading the individual to a positive outcome and as long as that tool is leading you towards this idea of oneness, then it’s seen as being used for the right sort of reason. The mind’s should be towards that oneness and ensuring that you contribute positively to Human society. That’s the way in which Sikhs would use AI.

What are the different Sikhi scholarly interpretations around AI, its creation and its use? How do they morally define the boundaries of AI from developers’ and users’ perspectives?

As this is so new, there haven’t been many scholarly interpretations about Sikhi and AI to date. An important thing to highlight is that the Sikh Gurus themselves emphasize the importance of the individual taking responsibility for their own journey. While there are religious experts per se, much of it is about an individual’s interpretation in regards AI and morality. In terms of morality and the boundaries of AI from developers’ and users’ perspectives, one thing that is really important for Sikhs is to ensure that the words of the Gurus are properly engaged with, and not changed in any way. In terms of morality, the moral imperative would be to ensure that AI is being used for positivity and also that it isn’t being used to misinterpret or misrepresent the writings of the Gurus.

Has anyone used machine learning algorithms to facilitate the dissemination of knowledge relating to Sikhi?

One of the main aspects of the Sikh tradition is engaging with the writings of the Gurus, which are treated as sacred objects and are sung in Sikh institutions and Gurdwaras. A lot of the emphasis by young Sikhs since the digital revolution has been on presenting the writings of the Gurus in languages that people who don’t speak Punjabi could engage with; so, a lot of the focus regarding tech has been on that. There’s been various software produced like Sikhi To The Max for instance, which presents translations of the writings of the Gurus in a variety of languages.

There was a Sikh version of ChatGPT being produced early last year – it was called NanakGPT – which was quickly shut down . One thing that’s pretty much untouchable in the Sikh tradition is the writings of the Gurus; you’re not allowed to amend those in any way whatsoever. Rather than simply translating, NanakGPT was producing writings that were not authentic, it ended up writing its own particular versions of the scripture, so it was quickly shut down.

Have you come across any other uses of AI relating to Sikhi? Are there any trends like Sikhi futurism?

The other thing I’ve seen AI being used for so far is image production. I was reading a post this morning about how Sikh characters could be included in games, for example. Being a minority community means that obviously what is available in terms of your representation doesn’t necessarily represent the whole community. There was a famous case in the early 2000s, a game called Hitman 2 where Sikhs were represented as terrorists in the game, as stereotypical males with a turban. The Sikh community mobilized and spoke out against that.

I’ve seen some production of Sikh images on AI, and it’s usually the kind of normative, turbaned male with a beard. But I suppose that an advantage is the fact that AI is allowing Sikhs to produce images themselves. They’re kind of empowered to do that, whereas up to this point, Sikhs have generally been represented by others. At least through AI, there’s more possibilities for Sikhs themselves to own the images that are that are produced by this technology.

Another important aspect would be the possibility of using AI in what’s known as Kirtan, which is the singing of the writings of the Gurus, and there’s been some discussion about how AI could be used to produce authentic presentations of the singing of the compositions of the gurus as well.

Has technology been used adversely against Sikh voices and if so, what counter-strategies did people use?

There have been a few instances where Sikh hashtags have been blocked on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter . There have been instances where accounts and certain discourses have been blocked. As counter-strategies, these have been highlighted by Sikh organizations like the Sikh Press Association or Sikh newspapers in Canada. It’s about raising awareness that these instances are happening again, a lot of it is a consequence of being a minority community.

Have you come across Sikhs in lead roles around the design of AI, and making a point of finding inspiration in Sikhi to design tools that uphold the Sikhi standards of fairness and justice?

It’s certainly something that the young generations are interested in and looking at. There are lots of Sikhs working in the technology industry, it’s probably one of the most popular after medicine and law. I know there are lots of Sikhs working in Silicon Valley too in quite senior areas of responsibility.

What is also interesting is that you are increasingly seeing Sikh representation, on Apple phones for example. And I think I saw a Sikh character on Snapchat recently as well. You have more representation of the Sikh identity on various platforms which is a consequence of the engagement of these various companies with Sikhs.

There isn’t a central religious authority. There are authorities in the tradition, but there hasn’t been an essential authority making an announcement on AI yet. It’s something that’s currently sitting with individual Sikhs to work out how it’s used.

How did you cover in your lecture about Sikhs and AI in Singapore? What was the audience’s response?

They were really pleased because it was the first time they’d actually been able to talk about technology, and so much has changed since the late 90s in terms of technology. It seems like things are moving really quickly from one thing to the next, from discussion boards to social media to now AI. But there hasn’t been any chance to take stock of it. So, I think it was a very welcome conversation. What does it mean for the tradition in terms of, authority, community, and identity?

The lecture was looking to ask respondents how technology had impacted their lives as Sikhs? It had helped them engage with Sikh teachings in terms of AI, we were discussing what the possibilities could be, and much of it was around improved access and the possibilities of improved understanding. But again, it was clearly recognized that, for the moment, AI is only as good as the information that it can consume to learn. I think it was recognized that, as a minority community, Sikhs themselves need to ensure that whatever goes into AI is a good representation as possible of the Sikh tradition and Sikh teachings. The biggest thing is that this isn’t something that Sikhs should sit back and ignore, because if Sikhs don’t take charge of their representation in AI themselves, somebody else probably will do so.

One thing they said was that AI could be helpful, for example, to assist Sikhs in understanding the Guru Granth Sahib. A good AI could help analyze the writings of the Gurus to understand what the Guru’s response would be to an ethical issue for example. The only issue is what’s happened with the translation software, so what was also agreed in this discussion was, that it’s important to not take AI as the final voice on matters – it’s important for Sikhs to do their own study as well. AI was seen as a useful tool, but it should not be taken as the final word.


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