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TRANSCRIPT: 2084 – Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity: John C Lennox

Here is the audio, full text and summary of John C Lennox’s lecture titled “2084 – Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity”.

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We humans are insatiably curious. We’ve been asking questions since the dawn of history. We’ve especially been asking the big questions about origin and destiny. Where do I come from and where am I going? The problem is that these are not easy questions. And with the rise of artificial intelligence, the questions become even more daunting.

Will Technology Change What It Means To Be Human?

How should we think about the artificial intelligence we encounter in everyday life? Will all this change the way people think about God?

I believe that there are real, credible answers to these questions to show that Christianity has some very serious, sensible, evidence-based things to say about the nature of our quest for superintelligence. That it is real answers, way beyond anything that AI prophets can even dream about.

Every author has a biography. And I found when I read books that the more I know about the author, the better I can understand why they write what they do. And in my case, I come from Northern Ireland, which is a country sadly infamous for terrorism and violence. And I grew up in the city of Armagh, which was a particularly violent centre.

The violence was just beginning when I left to go to Cambridge. But what was very important was the way in which I was brought up by my parents. They were very unusual people, in the sense that we lived in a sectarian country, divided across Protestantism and Catholicism.

But my parents, they were Christian, but they were not sectarian. And that was demonstrated by the fact that my father, who ran a medium-sized country store, he tried to employ as best he could people from both communities. And the shop was bombed because of that, my brother nearly killed.

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And I asked him once why he’d done that. And he said, well, I believe that the biblical account of human life is correct, that human beings, no matter what they believe, are made in the image of God and therefore of infinite value, and I try to treat them that way. And that has become a life principle for me.

And we’ll be looking at that a little bit later, the significance of human life.

The second thing I got from my parents was they loved me enough to allow me to think. And that, I discovered later, was unusual because the country was full of religious bigotry. But my father in particular read widely, although he didn’t have the education I later got, and encouraged me to read as widely as I could. When I was about 14, he gave me a copy of the Communist Manifesto. And I said, have you read that? He said, no, but you should. I said, why? Because you need to know what other people think.

So with that background, I went up to Cambridge to read mathematics, although I was originally interested firstly in languages and secondly in electrical engineering. I ended in Cambridge because my school headmaster thought I might have a chance of getting there. And I suppose one of the first interesting things about Cambridge was that C.S. Lewis was still there, and I was able to attend some of the very last lectures he ever gave.

But I was challenged when I got to Cambridge. Very early on, a fellow student said to me, do you believe in God? And he apologized, and he said, I shouldn’t have asked you that. You’re Irish. All you Irish believe in God, and you fight about it. And of course, I’d heard that many times.

But I thought, I’ve got a real opportunity now at Cambridge to meet people from different worldviews and to find out what makes them tick to befriend them. And so I searched for people who did not share my Christian worldview. And I’ve been befriending people like that ever since.

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So what that explains about me is that I’ve always been, since childhood, interested in the big questions, the big questions of life, the big worldview questions. And being a mathematician, I’ve wondered, well, where does mathematics fit in science? And then, where does science fit in our view of reality?

Does science tell us everything?

Or is there more to be found? Is there a transcendent dimension? Which, of course, I believed in as a Christian. But I wanted to expose my faith in God and Christ to questioning. And so, for all of my life, I have opened myself, made myself vulnerable, if you like, to facing really big questions.

And I spend my time playing Socrates, asking the big questions. And I’m looking up at some of the big questions with which developments in artificial intelligence confront us. Questions like this, will we be able one day to construct artificial life? Will we be able to re-engineer humans so that they become super-intelligent?

And what implications will advances in AI have on our worldviews in general? And, indeed, on the God question in particular. Now, I have never personally constructed an autonomous vehicle or weapon, indeed. I’ve never designed a machine learning system. But you don’t have to be able to do either of these practical things in order to have an intelligent discussion about their implications.

My background is in pure mathematics and the philosophy of science. And that has given me a keen interest in the public understanding of science. So, let’s begin with human curiosity about the questions: where do I come from and where am I going? Our answers to the first shape our concepts of who we are.

Where Do I Come From And Where Am I Going?

A person who has lost his memory often loses his identity and has to be given information about their past in order to reconstruct their identity. So, the past determines our identity. But then the second question, the matter of the future, where we’re going. Our answers to that question give us our goals to live for.

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