After much deliberation, with the growing interest in artificial intelligence (AI) and discussion about the recent development of the House of Lords Select Committee, which the C-A-N- leadership team had discussed both over email and at a meeting in September 2017, we went ahead to seek some speakers that would be able to speak at a conference the following March. It is one of those things when you organise a somewhat extra ordinary event you just don’t know if people are going to be interested. But we took the risk, sent out the call for papers, and came to find a set of speakers come forward by January 2018. By March 10th we miraculously we had a full house sign up to come. The real worry turned out to be then if the room would be too small! It’s now the third time we have had a C-A-N- conference where academics, researchers and other interested persons have squeezed together in a relatively small lecture room in Birkbeck (it is London after all!). We started the day getting straight to business and welcomed God’s presence amongst us as we began to listen and discuss. I believe he put us in such a room, which some might call a querky event without all the glamour of a conference and a bring your own lunch – after all it saved lots of people’s money! In our academic lives we come to know what makes a truly good conference, where we hear, think and discuss constructively and I believe God was at work as he bunched us all together. These are more valuable than the monetary value of any conference.
Many Christian organisations are increasingly interested in AI so what was special about our event? A long term interest of C-A-N- has been to facilitate epistemological academic discourse the disciplines and to support academics following Christ in shaping their own discipline accordingly. This requires conversation between disciplines where they interact and it’s hard to think of a discipline that could not be affected by AI (even classics, it already is!). Clearly AI was fertile ground for discussion against C-A-N’s backdrop. A one day event didn’t have time to go through all of the different disciplines (though of course engineering and technology had to be mentioned) but we saw clear cases of how AI is impacting, or can impact, law, justice, business, biology, finance, sociology, healthcare and information systems as well as making world chess champions! Having a diverse audience present was really helpful to such discussion and raised useful points of debate.
Inevitably, the question of comparing AI with humans, or indeed living species, had to be asked in places. Though it was not the aim of the conference to tackle such a question, it cannot be avoided because it inextricably relates to how AI will impact other disciplines. Two interesting points of thought on that subject were to consider the difference between the intelligence against the personhood of the human being. Another presentation on the matter considered the three debates around “Computer = Human?” being mind vs matter; biological vs physical and free vs determined. An integrated aspectual approach was offered between aspectual functioning of the subject, the human and the object. At the end of the day a key outcome where C-A-N- has opportunity within its membership is to contribute academic discourse that will counteract the risk of AI overtaking society and the economy. Examples of this were monopolisation of markets business and unjust, or what might be considered as unprofessional, leadership in the healthcare and justice system.