Ever since its inception 25 years ago, IISR (Indian Institute of Science and Religion) Delhi, has been organizing much-appreciated international symposiums on the latest developments in science and technology and their impact on common people. These megaevents have been attempts to bring science and its achievements to the level of all educated persons, so that they too can be beneficiaries of the hard-earned achievements of science and technology. Following this enriching tradition, IISR, in collaboration with the nationally reputed St. Aloysius College, Mangaluru, and The Chair in Christianity, Mangalore University, organized its 14th international symposium on 18th-20th November 2022, at the college campus on “AI, Robotics and Humanoids and the Future of Society and Religion.”
More than 120 scholars – mostly college teachers and senior students from all parts of India and some from abroad – participated in this 3-day event, wherein more than 21 nationally and internationally reputed scholars, including Guy Consolmagno, Director of Vatican Observatory, Rome; Roy Pereira, Loyola-Marymount University, Los Angeles; Hamid Rezania, McMaster University, Toronto; Sonajharia Minz, Vice Chancellor, KM University, Dumka; Anand Kumar, NIT Karnataka; Stephen Jayard, Director, Jnana Deepa Centre for Science and Religion; Augustine Pamplany, Director, Institute of Science and Religion, Aluva; Victor Ferrao, Director, Science-Religion Samgam, Goa; Job Kozhamthadam, Director IISR; Binoy Jacob, Director, LIP, Praveen Martis, Principal; Melvin Pinto, Rector; etc., presented scholarly papers.
AI-powered devices attempt to produce human-made intelligence in a human-made machine. Over-enthusiasts believe that eventually this development will lead to the creation of human-like beings that can outsmart even the best of humans. However, after 3 days of intense study and discussion, the consensus emerged seemed to be that, while saluting and supporting our scientists, we need to be more realistic: AI-powered machines can only assist humans in many ways, often very efficiently and effectively, but not replace them.
The basic strategy used in the construction of AI powered humanoids, is to observe with meticulous care the external behaviour and expressions of humans and mimic them as closely as possible. This presupposes that humans are no more than a collection of externally observable phenomena. However, there is good reason to believe that humans are much more than such a collection of externals, thereby revealing that something essentially human is wanting in humanoids.
Nor can this missing aspect be easily filled up once science and technology makes further progress, because it is closely associated with deep and fundamental-level human nature and capabilities like consciousness, inner spirit, intuition and related phenomena, the real nature of which still defy all human efforts to unpack and analyse adequately.
The symposium also emphasized that the primary goal of science was to foster human welfare and enrichment. Hence it cannot be used to bring any type of harm to humanity. In real life, this would mean that AI-driven devices should not lead to increase in unemployment. Nor should it to be allowed to widen the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. Furthermore, we need to ensure that humanoids and related developments do not lead to an erosion of sound ethical values and moral principles. Overdependence on machines and consequent threat to human autonomy and freedom also will have to avoided.
However, these challenges need not deter scientific study and research from continuing its ambitious quest. We need to encourage further scientific research and development and lend all possible support to it. Already robots and humanoids are assisting humans in so many constructive ways. This should continue unhindered. Humanoids can be of immense benefit as collaborators, especially in areas inaccessible to humans. Indeed, the relationship between humans and humanoids need to be one of fruitful collaboration rather than unhealthy competition. Such a collaboration can lead to a harmonious blending of the latest findings of science and the deepest insights of religions, to build up a better humanity and a better India, as envisaged in the vision and mission of IISR.
Job Kozhamthadam, SJ