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Bloomers, gloomers, and doomers: Future of AI discussed in faith context

23 June 2023

Good Faith Partnership

Roundtable discussions at the AI, Faith and the Future of Society conference

Roundtable discussions at the AI, Faith and the Future of Society conference

PERSPECTIVES on the future of artificial intelligence (AI) have been described as falling into three camps: the optimistic “bloomers”, the pessimistic “gloomers”, and the apocalypse-anticipating “doomers”.

This was part of the keynote speech given by the entrepreneur and author Dr Nick Chatrath at the AI, Faith and the Future of Society conference in Westminster last week, at which a diverse group of faith leaders, academics, and policymakers gathered.

Describing himself as a “cautious bloomer”, Dr Chatrath said that it was important for faith perspectives to be involved in the conversation about the regulation and use of AI as a counter-balance to the tendency among tech developers to see AI as a panacea.

“Sometimes our thinking can become subservient to dominant trends,” he said; because “people of faith look out for the ‘have nots’ in any society” they could help to ensure that disadvantaged groups weren’t left behind.

He appealed to religious and civic leaders to take an active part in engaging with the development of AI: “as leaders we have an opportunity to shape a better future”.

The event was organised by the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion and the Abu Dhabi Forum for Peace in collaboration with the Good Faith Partnership, and was hosted in Parliament by Jon Cruddas, the Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham.

Mr Cruddas told around 50 attendees that discussion on AI should start with a consideration of the “basic conditions for human flourishing”. He expressed concern about what the development of AI could mean for workers in a wide variety of sectors.

The challenges surrounding the regulation of AI development and deployment stood, he said, in “inverse proportion” to the ability of the politicians who were currently trying to deal with them.

“The policy proposals are limited compared to the challenges we face,” he said. Regulation should be “less a technocratic exercise in risk management” and instead focus on “questions of justice”.

Also present was the Conservative MP for Bromsgrove, the former Health Secretary Sajid Javid. He praised the advances that AI had enabled in medical care. “I think nothing will be left untouched by the AI revolution”; and he predicted “huge benefits for mankind”.

He also acknowledged, however, some of the dangers posed by AI, and the scale and immediacy of the challenge that regulators faced. “Whatever happens in regulation, it has to be formed by ethics, and faith is a really important part of that,” he concluded.

In a panel discussion, the theologian Dr Erin Green listed five groups who were at particular risk of further disenfranchisement if AI was not properly regulated: women, refugees, indigenous communities, children, and the planet itself.

She argued that using AI to assess asylum applications might lead to human biases being entrenched and intensified within the process, as machine learning was geared towards efficiency rather than compassion.

Dr Green also highlighted the environmental impact of any “technological revolution”, in particular the energy required to provide necessary computer power.

Dr Ramon Harvey, a lecturer at Cambridge Muslim College, echoed Dr Green’s points, asking “how can this technology extend our responsibility for the world?”

Questions of personhood would be vital in this, he said, and suggested that religious perspectives had much to offer in these enquiries.

The part that Christians could play was also explored by Professor John Wyatt, a physician and author who has co-edited a collection of essays on Christianity and AI (Books, 10 September 2021; Interview, 9 December 2022). He described himself as being on the “gloomier” end of Dr Chatrath’s scale, and argued that the advances that AI was bringing to the medical field were distracting from the dangers that it posed.

“Techno-utopianism seems to dream of a frictionless future. Is a frictionless future the kind of future in which embodied human beings can flourish?”

It was important for people of faith to be actively engaged in the development of the technology, he argued, to prevent it being dominated by people trying to bring sci-fi stories to life, with no regard for the consequences.

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