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Artificial Intelligence and Spirituality: "Hey Alexa, What happens when I die?"

As-Salāmu ‘Alaykum / Peace be upon you!

How should Alexa answer the question: “What happens when I die?” What should Siri say when asked: “Why is there evil in the world?” Should Google try to respond when someone says: “Hey Google, is there a God?”

AI algorithms have the power to create groups, select and prioritize the delivery of information and make a wide variety of suggestions to people.

This means there are important ethical decisions being made somewhat autonomously that potentially shape our lives; our thinking, our relationships and our actions. These decisions are difficult to see and understand for the users of these technologies and, increasingly, the creators of them as machines learn against an ever-changing sea of data and harvested user behaviors incomprehensible to any human. This requires understanding the power and meaning of AI-based technologies in everyday life.

We are pleased to host Shanen Boettcher, a PhD student at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, who is researching the intersection of artificial intelligence technology with world cultures and religions. He has recently developed and deployed a curriculum for elementary schools to teach children about world religions to advance awareness, acceptance and inclusion of others.

Shanen is particularly interested in the intersection of artificial intelligence with religious information because of the highly personal and influential position religion occupies. It is possible that people will work hard to keep their religious and digital lives separate, but to what extent is this sustainable over time? From the 2016 election to our response to COVID-19, artificial intelligence has played a central role in influencing our worldviews by shaping our news, politics, communications and relationships. Shanen hypothesizes that artificial intelligence will likewise influence the religious information we consume and therefore will impact our spiritual contexts in profound ways.

Prior to his research, in 2016, Shanen left a fulfilling 25-year career in the technology industry; much of which was at Microsoft and also Netscape and Accenture. He has been fortunate to play a part in creating technologies that have transformed how people communicate, collaborate and learn

Date: Thursday, August 6th, 2020

Time: 8:30 PM

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