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Robots and Religion

James Hoskins

Toy robots in Mexico City, by AlejandroLinaresGarcia - Wikimedia Creative Commons (license)

Toy robots in Mexico City, by AlejandroLinaresGarcia - Wikimedia Creative Commons (license)

A growing area of inquiry in the science and faith dialog is that of artificial intelligence. The more powerful computers become -- rivaling human abilities -- the more spiritual and philosophical questions are raised.

For instance: can machines think? Could a computer ever become conscious? If it did, would that mean it had a soul? What does that imply about our souls? Could a computer ever join a religion? I was asked to weigh in on these questions recently in a couple of different publications.

First, I wrote an article for the Christian Research Journal titled, "Digital Souls: What Should Christians Believe About Artificial Intelligence." You can't read the article without a subscription to the journal. However, the managing editor interviewed me about the article in a free podcast that you can listen to here -- it's about 30 minutes long.

Second, I had the opportunity to answer a few questions via email for Leigh Alexander -- a tech writer for The Guardian, in the UK. She was writing an intriguing article for the online magazine How We Get To Next, on the question, "Could an AI join a religion?". She contacted various people from different religious traditions to weigh in -- I represented Christianity. Here's the article: "Does Siri Believe In God?" It's a fascinating read.

If you're interested to read more on this topic here at PhiloLogos, I wrote an article back in 2010 -- "Artificial Intelligence or Religious Hype?" -- about how the metaphysical beliefs of computer scientists can lead them to anthropomorphize computers. The tone of the article is a little more snarky than I would write now, but it's still relevant to this topic.

Also on the topic of computers and consciousness, my more recent article, "The Singularity Is Not As Near As You Think," is about why people will never be able to upload their consciousness into a computer, despite what many futurists would like to believe.

Enjoy these resources -- and beware the robots! ;-)

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