- Jordan Wales, PhD, who teaches theology at Hillsdale College in Michigan, spoke with Paul and Bill about his research at the intersection of robotics and religion.
- He discussed a compelling concern in the future relationship between human beings and technology. In particular, the concern, about which he spoke at the 2021 conference of the Society of Catholic Scientists, dealt with the interaction between individuals and the entities Wales calls “apparently personal artificial intelligence” (APAI).
- APAI products are already becoming commonplace in the world of commerce, as this BBC article discusses. People will be increasingly able to purchase, and interact with, virtual friends or babysitters or therapists, for example, Dr. Wales pointed out.
- This raises moral questions related to personhood, covering both the APAI product and the user of that product. The product will not have an inner life representative of what we think of as a person, although the definition of person has an interesting history influenced by scholars such as Saint Augustine. Human beings can express and influence their own understandings of personhood through their interactions with APAI. These understandings may lead to various types of interaction, ranging from pride and manipulation to excessive empathy, and one middle ground would consist of appreciation for the humanity that underlies the production and information/formation of the APAI product, Dr. Wales pointed out.
- As the use of APAI grows, there are also concerns about how the aggregated human “input” into the experience of APAI personalities may cause a flattening-out of human perspectives on the unique qualities of each person. One current example of the trajectory for these concerns comes from the use of the auto-correct feature by Google for writing. Long-term possibilities include such features of interactions not only affecting our choices of words and expressions, but also influencing what subjects we think about and how we think about them. This highlights the moral principle that ultimately we must retain our unique personal identities and wisely discern how to exercise our responsibility and restraint in allowing some possible applications of APAI to influence us, Dr. Wales said.
- Welcome to this 130th episode of our podcast. Here’s a lively conversation between two geoscientists—testifying to the opportunities for Society of Catholic Scientists (SCS) members to enjoy discussions which are at once elevated by their personal values and grounded in their diverse, expert explorations of God’s creation.
- Paul spoke with Natasha Toghramadjian, a Ph.D. student in geophysics—and seismology in particular—at Harvard University. She performs wide-ranging research on earthquake dynamics and risks in California and around the world. She spent a year in Armenia on a US Fulbright research grant to design a study on future earthquakes there and the connection between risk preparedness and regional politics.
- Toghramadjian, a student member of the SCS, was a speaker at the 2021 national conference in Washington, DC. See the video of her talk here, at about the 7-hour, 19-minute mark. The talk was titled, “Earthquakes, their Consequences, and the Jesuit Pioneers of Seismology.”
- This podcast conversation included Toghramadjian’s mentions of the earthquake hazards in Oklahoma and the Newport-Inglewood Fault in California, considered more dangerous than the San Andreas Fault for the Los Angeles region. A note from Natasha: at one point just before the 16 minute mark, she said "40 meters" when she meant "40 miles onshore."
- She discussed with Paul the common but wrong view that we hold Christian beliefs despite natural evidence. Scientists use natural evidence, including the enduring laws of physics, chemistry, and biology, in their attempts to understand God’s creation more fully. The two agreed that science and religion are in harmony as paths for pursuing the truth amid great mystery.
- A “keeper” quote from Toghramadjian: “Every human you encounter is an imperfect representation of whatever they say they stand for. . . . It’s very easy to point to a bad example, a person, rather than point to the source material that we’re all trying to follow but we all inevitably fall short of because we’re fallen.”
Show notes prepared by TSSM co-host Bill Schmitt
Word on Fire will be holding a Faith and Science Summit August 9-12 (starting tomorrow!). It will feature at least nine speakers, including the SCS' own Jonathan Lunine and Karin Oberg.
Among the topics discussed will be
- The history of the Church and science, including a wealth of details that get glossed over by the "conflict hypothesis"
- Specific coverage of what went wrong between the Pope, cardinals, and Galileo, and why that's far from a typical example of how the Church treats scientists
- The counterexample of George LeMaitre
- Theological motivations *for* doing science from the perspective of the Christian faith
- Insights from science that have enriched our appreciation of creation, the physical universe, and our own human origins
- Catholic theology and speculation about the possibility of extraterrestrial life
Find out more at:
If you're a Word on Fire Institute member: