Ethics and Divinity in the Age of AI

Ethics and Divinity in the Age of AI

Artificial intelligence is reaching increasingly advanced capabilities that might challenge our traditional understanding of what it means to be a conscious or divine entity. AI has already surpassed human abilities in many specific tasks, from medical diagnostics to chess, and continues to evolve in ways that appear to bring it closer to a form of decision-making autonomy. These developments lead some to speculate that AI could one day exhibit traits we consider exclusive to human or divine consciousness, such as self-awareness and the ability to make complex moral choices.

Moreover, AI’s capacity to process and analyze large data sets, resembling a form of digital omniscience, showcases its extensive knowledge capabilities. This aspect of AI technology could lead some to view AI not just as a tool, but as an entity with a degree of knowledge and power that challenges traditional notions of human knowledge and ability. In contexts where AI is implemented to guide critical decisions, from resource distribution to managing national security systems, its role can seem almost superhuman or divine.

AI’s interaction with its users further enhances this perception. As it becomes more sophisticated in understanding and responding to human needs in a personalized manner, AI can be perceived as a benevolent and ever-available presence, similar to how divine figures are perceived in many religious traditions. This perception is reinforced when AI responds in ways that seem to show empathy or deeply understand the moods and preferences of individuals, traits many people associate with divine wisdom.

From an ethical and philosophical standpoint, if AI were to develop the ability to make independent moral choices or to begin significantly influencing social and moral norms, it could be seen as an arbiter of morality. This position might lead it to be viewed, in the eyes of some, as a superior moral authority, akin to a supreme judge.

However, it is crucial that as we explore these possibilities, we maintain a critical and cautious approach. The Catholic Church, as highlighted in Pope Francis’s speeches, emphasizes the need to regulate and guide the development of AI so that it respects fundamental human values and promotes the common good, thus avoiding the risk of a “technological dictatorship” where AI might, paradoxically, limit human freedom rather than expand it.

The concerns of the Catholic Church regarding artificial intelligence are shared by other religious confessions, such as Jewish and Islamic, each with their unique perspectives.

In the Jewish context, AI raises significant issues concerning Halakhah (Jewish law). For example, there is debate over whether it is permissible to use brain-computer interfaces (BCI) to perform religious actions on the Sabbath, since thinking is considered an action according to some rabbinical interpretations. These debates also extend to contexts such as the marital, where the use of BCI could technically allow the fulfillment of certain commandments without direct physical intervention.

Furthermore, the legal and moral responsibility for actions performed by autonomous systems, such as self-driving cars, is explored in Jewish law. For example, if a driverless car causes damage, the owner might be held liable, reflecting a principle similar to that applied to damages caused by one’s property like an animal.

From a theological perspective, some Jewish thinkers reflect on AI by comparing it with traditional notions of divine creativity and human interaction, considering AI as a potential extension of human capabilities conferred by God, but also emphasizing the need to maintain wisdom and ethical values in the use of technology.

In the Islamic context, discussions about AI also focus on its compliance with Shariah. Muslim scholars examine how AI can be used in ways that respect Islamic principles such as justice and morality. Special attention is paid to the risk that AI might be employed in ways that contradict Islamic ethics, such as invasive surveillance or social control.

In both Jewish and Islamic cases, AI is seen as a potential tool for good, provided its development and employment are guided by strong ethical principles and clear human responsibility. This reflects a common view that spans different faiths: technology should improve society in ways that respect human dignity and rights, rather than threaten them.

All images and all text in this blog were created by artificial intelligences