Talking with Robert Marks, Director of the Walter Bradley Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence

Robert J. Marks II, Ph.D., is Distinguished Professor of Engineering in the Department of Engineering & Computer Science at Baylor University.  He is the Director and a Senior Fellow of the Walter Bradley Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence.  Marks is the Editor-in-Chief of BIO-Complexity and the former Editor-in-Chief of the IEEE Transactions on Neural Networks. He is a Fellow of the IEEE and a Fellow of the Optical Society of America.  His professional awards include a NASA Tech Brief Award and a best paper award from the American Brachytherapy Society for prostate cancer research. Marks has consulted for Microsoft, DARPA, and Boeing.

Dr. Marks served for 17 years as the faculty advisor to the University of Washington’s chapter of Campus Crusade for Christ. At Baylor University, he is a faculty advisor for the student group Oso Logos (Ratio Christi).  His books include For a Greater Purpose: The Life and Legacy of Walter Bradley, (Erasmus Press… with William Dembski and J.P. Moreland);  Biological Information – New Perspectives (World Scientific… with M.J. Behe, W.A. Dembski, B.L. Gordon, J.C. Sanford); Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics (World Scientific, with William Dembski and Winston Ewert);  Handbook of Fourier Analysis and Its Applications (Oxford University Press);  and Neural Smithing: Supervised Learning in Feedforward Artificial Neural Networks (MIT Press … with Russell Reed).

 

Professor Marks, what interested you in the fields of electrical engineering and computer science and how did those interests lead you eventually to your distinguished professorship at Baylor University?

Life is funny. Here’s how I chose my career. It shows that ill-informed decisions do not always lead to catastrophes.

As an undergraduate I went to Rose-Human Institute of Technology where everyone takes the same courses for the first two years. It was the night before we were required to declare our majors. I liked mixing things and thought of choosing Chemistry as a major. On the other hand, I really enjoyed math so was close to choosing mathematics. But then I thought how wonderful it would be able to fix televisions and stereos. So I chose Electrical & Computer Engineering which is my profession today.

I never did learn how to fix televisions and stereos.

I was a terrible student until I became a Christian while a junior in college. Then, all of a sudden, everything in life made sense. God had gifted me as a nerd and I loved it. I put the pedal to the metal and got a masters and a PhD in less time than it took me to get my Bachelor’s degree. Publishing papers came easy to me and that’s what academia wants. I got my first job at the University of Washington  as a professor. I later moved to Baylor, a research university that calls itself Christian. Landing a job that matches your gifts is a blessing. I am blessed.

 

Please tell us about your role in co-founding and now directing the Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence.  What most motivates you in this work, and what personal goals do you hold for your engagement with the Center?

While a professor at Texas A&M, Walter Bradley visited many universities where he encouraged Christian professors to live their faiths out loud.  I first met Walter during his visits to the University of Washington. Walter later became a Professor at Baylor University and when I came to Baylor I developed close friendships with he and Bill Dembski. Both are scary smart and serious Christians. Bill and I resonated with our research and we were soon publishing together. Some of the earliest peer reviewed papers relating to intelligent design (ID) were authored by Bill and me.

I got into serious trouble with Baylor for posting a web site on Baylor’s servers that contained  ID work by Bill and me.  Baylor shut it down.  I could not understand why a university that claimed to be Christian would object so strongly to research in ID. Things got testy and I ended up hiring a lawyer.

In the end, all  this worked out fine. The Board of Regents during my troubled time asked Baylor’s president to resign. He said no and was immediately fired. Since then, my relationship with Baylor has been great. I am blessed to be here.

While battling Baylor over my website, Walter Bradley, Bill Dembski and I became even closer friends.  A band of brothers in conflict you might say.

Bill later became an entrepreneur and together we decided to launch the Walter Bradley Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence with me as the Director. Bill funded the startup. We were both closely associated with the Discovery Institute and John West, Discovery’s VP, helped us flesh out the infrastructure. Discovery is classy. Everything they do is professional and top notch and it continues to be a true joy working with them.

The Bradley Center’s namesake, Walter Bradley, is from the admiration Bill Dembski and I have for Walter. With lots of help, Bill and I recently coauthored a biography of Walter entitled For a Greater Purpose.  If you are a teacher, professional, or especially a professor, read this book. You will learn by Walter’s example how to be an effective worker for Christ in your vocation.

A goal of the Bradley Center is celebration of human exceptionality especially in the light of the ever-growing development of artificial intelligence. The mathematics of computer science suggests you and I will always be able to do things a computer can’t. Examples of untouchable human traits are creativity, understanding and sentience.

The Bradley Center is doing great things since founded in 2018. MindMatters.AI, our website of opinion and news, now gets a couple million hits each year. I host a podcast for the Bradley Center and have been blessed to interview luminaries like John Lennox, George Gilder, Gregory Chaitin and Paul Werbos. We have published three books together and have two more in the pipeline.

 

Like AI and Faith’s expert community, the Fellows of the Bradley Center bring a multi-disciplinary approach to your work.  What is the value in that, and which disciplines  do you believe are essential to a thoughtful engagement with AI ethics?

 

You’re right! Many news and opinion pages on the web are filled with posts by untutored journalists and non-specialists. MindMatters.AI, our web site, has contributions from practicing brain surgeons, world class economists, computer scientists, attorneys and computer engineers.  An astute reader can immediately see the difference between MindMatters.AI and other news and opinion sites is readily apparent.

 

Among the various ethical issues posed by artificial intelligence, where would you rank the issue of human distinctiveness from machines and animals? What other issues do you consider to be fundamentally important?

Since there are human attributes AI will never duplicate, human exceptionalism is a given.

There are at least two types of ethics. Design ethics requires that end-product AI must do what it was designed to do and no more. If AI makes mistakes, like Alexa, annoyance or amusement should be the only byproduct. The Uber self-driving car is another matter. Here an AI mistake can (and has) cost human life.   Borrowing from legal parlance in cases where it can be dangerous, AI performing as intended and no more must be “above all reasonable doubt.”

End user ethics is different than design ethics. Should a field commander deploy a lethal AI weapon in such-and-such a battlefield scenario? A common question is whether this or that AI is biased or not. There’s a problem here. Even when trained well, all AI is always biased in one way or another. One man’s truth is labeled biased by another. So making AI match one’s political ideology has nothing to do with AI. It has to do with manipulating the AI to give the output that matches one’s expectations.

 

You’ve worked at great length in both faith-oriented and secular professional and academic organizations in your field.  Have you encountered fixed assumptions that amount to a secular orthodoxy, equivalent or nearly so to religious belief  systems?  If so, how do the Fellows of the Bradley Center address such “orthodoxies” – both secular and faith oriented?

Each of the Fellows of the Bradley Center have their own perspective on this question, so I’ll need to answer for myself.

Atheists isolate their thoughts and any creativity to a box outside of which is ideologically forbidden territory.  Theists, in my case Christians, can look at the world outside of the box. This works as long as intellectual honesty prevails. The question is not “Did God do it?” but rather “How did God do it?”

The Christian perspective aided in the rise of modern science in Christian eastern Europe. A painting has a painter and, as Romans 1:20 says, creation must have a Creator. Looking deeper into the source of creation led to the genius work in mathematics and physics by Christian luminaries like Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, Michael Faraday, James Clerk Maxwell, Kepler, Galileo, Leonard Euler and others.

 

For a relatively small think tank, the volume and depth of the articles you publish in Mind Matters is impressive.  Is it fair to say that the tone of your articles is “full throated” in offering a particular perspective on natural intelligence as distinctive and superior to any form of artificial intelligence that may eventually be developed?  What is your strategy in this and how have you found it to play out?

MindMatters.AI not only deals with artificial intelligence, but natural intelligence and how it ties in with AI. How does the brain work? An intriguing question is whether or not the mind is an emergent property of the brain. Or is there part of the mind external to the brain?  Angus Menuge, Brian Krouse and I are putting together essays from top scholars on this topic. Contributors include J.P. Moreland, David Gelernter,  Selmer Bringsjord, Gary Habermas, Michael Egnor, Doug Axe, William Dembski  and more. We cover perspectives on the mind-brain question from the viewpoints of neurosurgeons, neuroscientists, computer scientists, philosophers and psychologists.  The collection, tentatively called Minding the Brain, demonstrates we are more than computers made out of meat. It looks to be an intellectual feast.

 

The previous and upcoming COSM Conferences have included some very big name speakers indeed, like Kai-Fu Li, Peter Thiel, and Ray Kurzweil, who are not ordinarily associated with a Christian- sponsored conference.  How have you successfully reached out to such high profile thinkers and why do you do so?

COSM is an incredible undertaking put together by Discovery co-founder George Gilder with help by Discovery President Steve Buri. I am astonished at the number of movers and shakers George knows. Besides those you mention, George invited Steve Forbes, publisher and former presidential candidate, to the last COSM. Also Carver Mead, the neural network pioneer who helped launch Silicon Valley.

This year at COSM I will be on a panel addressing application of AI in military weapons.  In my book, The Case for Killer Robots, I argue the US has no choice but to develop lethal weapons using AI. Our adversaries are. And military dominance throughout history is largely determined by who has the latest and best technology. Yes, this includes autonomous killer robots which will be useful if proven to perform as designed.

Want to rub elbows with top names in business and technology? Come to COSM!

Ed. – Thanks for this perspective and thoughts, Professor Marks.  We’ve included more information about COSM in our News Section below.

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