Computer Laboratory

Human identity in an age of machines

Project proposal

The Science of Human Flourishing Sub-Project 4:
Human identity in an age of nearly-human machines - the impact of advances in robotics and AI technology on human identity and self-understanding

The sub-project is focussed on the exploration of a range of novel and profound societal, philosophical and theological issues which emerge from recent developments in robotics and AI technology. In particular we will test the hypothesis that technological advances and an increasing frequency and intensity of human interactions with intelligent machines is changing both popular societal and scholarly understandings of human identity.

Specific research questions are:

  • What are the implications of advances in robotics and AI on popular societal understandings of human nature and identity, as expressed in films, novels and popular culture?
  • What are the implications of advances in robotics and AI for traditional Christian and other religious understandings about the uniqueness of human beings? In particular how do these advances impact on the Judaeo-Christian understanding of human beings as being “in the image of God”?
  • To what extent does the effective simulation of human behaviour and speech by AI provide genuine and novel insights into the fundamental nature of our humanity? To what extent do they confirm and reinforce materialistic conceptions of what it means to be human and of the nature of personhood?
  • What are the implications of effective simulation of human compassion, empathy and emotional intelligence by AIs for our understanding of human relationships? If assistive robots are increasingly seen as effective sources for human-like companionship, love and meaning, what are the implications for the care of vulnerable human beings, including children, and disabled and elderly people?
  • What ethical and regulatory frameworks are appropriate for the supervision of intelligent machines that interact with human beings? Should the creation of human-like robots be regulated and controlled, and if so in what way?

The fundamental aim is to encourage and promote a conversation between workers in different disciplines on these wide-ranging topics. The questions will be addressed using small group discussions and individual semi-structured interviews. Individuals from a range of relevant academic disciplines will be approached to participate in these activities. Relevant disciplines include: Computing, AI and robotics, philosophy, theology, neuroscience, neurology, social sciences and political and regulatory authorities.

The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion Templeton World Charity Foundation Faraday Institute for Science and Religion