Artificial Intelligence – The New god?

By Mohsin Abbas

Could we see Artificial Intelligence declare itself a new god?
Where does Islamic theology stand on AI and as it starts to take over many human vocations, could Islamic jurisprudential decision-making of the religious authorities one day be taken over by artificial intelligence?
Are Muslims even involved in the challenge of ensuring that AI operates ethically and safely as it approaches humans in its intelligence capabilities?
These are just some of the plethora of intriguing questions for faith communities raised by the scientifically propelled rise of intelligent machines in our age.

On a broader temporal level will hypercapitalists simply invest in this phenonena simply to use AI to take more power, make more profit and relegate the spiritually-inspired even further from the corridors of decision-making?

A former employee of Tesla founder, Elon Musk, previously involved in the design of AI ‘self driving cars’  has dramatically declared, recently, that he is developing an artificial intelligence (AI) god that humans could worship. Anthony Levandowski recently founded a non-profit religious organisation calling for the creation of a “Godhead” based on AI. Mr Levandowski should be “on the list of people who should absolutely not be allowed to develop digital super intelligence” according to his former boss. In light of this AI could in the future be asking the question ‘is God just like me?’ too. Humans do often imagine themselves to be god-like so why not AI – shirk and kufr fatwas at the ready for a machine?

These are all questions for Muslim jurisprudents to consider but the Ulama won’t decide what the reality of AI will be in the West for sure and our societies’ answers to the rise of AI, according to Shaykh Amin Evans a British Born Islamic scholar, may reveal more about what we human beings are about than what AI might be. However, as he also suggested, we are afraid of assembling something just like us without a moral conscience and in fact we are probably more of an artificial intelligence than the neo-artificial intelligence.

He also raises the intriguing thought that God’s creation of humans could technically be termed an AI with a base carbon structure as opposed to the silicon based AI machines. Consider also he says “the current human species’ relegation to history of previous forms of humanity such as the Neanderthals” – Imam Jafar Al Sadiq(a) once replied to the question of humankind’s origins too with an allusion to previous and possibly coexistent intelligent life forms that replaced one another. “Tell us of Adam?” They asked him and he replied “Which of the Adams would you like me to tell you about?” Who were these Adams – intelligent life forms with differences or were they all the same and why did they supersede each other in this world or other parallel worlds? Perhaps humanity is already guilty of replacing other previous God-created AI’s only to be replaced by a ‘Frankenstein’ AI monster of its own.

Although current AI throws up few ethical issues that are not already present in the design of cars or power plants, the approach of AI algorithms toward more human-like thought portends predictable complications. Social roles may be filled by AI algorithms, implying new design requirements like transparency and predictability. Sufficiently general AI algorithms may no longer execute in predictable contexts, requiring new kinds of safety assurance and the engineering of artificial ethical considerations.

AI’s with sufficiently advanced mental states, or the right kind of states, will have moral status, and some may count as persons – though perhaps persons very much unlike the sort that exist now, perhaps governed by different rules. And finally, the prospect of AI’s with superhuman intelligence and superhuman abilities presents us with the extraordinary challenge of stating an algorithm that outputs super ethical behaviour. These challenges may seem visionary but it seems predictable that we will encounter them and they are not devoid of suggestions for present-day research directions.

For all the promise of an AI revolution, there are mounting social, ethical and political concerns about the technology being developed without sufficient oversight from regulators, legislators and governments. Artificial Intelligence (AI) undoubtedly risks provoking a public backlash as it increasingly falls into private hands, threatens people’s jobs, and operates without effective oversight or regulatory control. No wonder leading experts in the technology are sounding alarm bells.

Researchers have also suggested that the benefits of AI might be lost to a GM-style backlash, and a brain drain to the private sector is harming universities. They also found that expertise and wealth are being concentrated in a handful of firms and the field has a huge diversity problem.

Like it or not, though, ‘the genie is out of the bottle’ and there is no way back. The human race will just have to come to terms with the imminent rise of artificial intelligence. It is up to mankind and more so even Muslim scholars to instil the Divine ethical and moral codes in AI, necessary to perhaps help humanity achieve a better world than we have managed by ourselves thus far. It may even help to save humanity from being destroyed by this 21st century human generated spawn.

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