God In the Machine: What Robots Teach Us About Humanity and God

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9780525947660: God In the Machine: What Robots Teach Us About Humanity and God

A provocative look at the theological implications of artificial intelligence—and the controversial questions raised by robotics about our very definition of humanity—from the founder of MIT’s God and Computers Project Get ready to meet two remarkable characters, Cog and Kismet. They both enjoy working with others, they’re very attentive, have excellent learning skills, and, according to their colleagues, they’re very charming. And they’re both robots.

From Hollywood to the halls of NASA, robots loom large in the popular imagination. But what feelings do these lifelike machines really provoke in us? In God in the Machine, Dr. Anne Foerst draws on her expertise as both a theologian and computer scientist to address the profound questions that robots such as Cog and Kismet raise for us all: What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to have a soul? And what do robots teach us about our relationship with God?

God in the Machine challenges many popular assumptions—about the Bible, about the meaning of community, and especially about the fundamental distinctions between humanity and the "artificial" beings we create. Dr. Foerst shares intriguing observations about the ways we define "human" versus "person" and asks what we must do in order for all humans to be treated as equal persons.

Original, controversial, and deeply insightful, God in the Machine illuminates the exciting and little-understood new terrain that lies at the intersection of technology and religion, science and faith.

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About the Author:

Dr. Anne Foerst is a former research scientist at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT, where she also founded and directed the God and Computers Project. The only robotics theologian in the country, her work has captured much media attention, including coverage in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and Science. She is currently a visiting professor of theology and computer science at St. Bonaventure University.

From Publishers Weekly:

Foerst, a theologian associated with MIT's artificial intelligence lab in the 1990s, writes not so much about robotics or AI as about what it means to be a person, in technological and theological perspective. As a German theologian transplanted into an unlikely environment, Foerst was received with both hospitality and skepticism by MIT colleagues. But the robots, rather than the roboticists, are the stars—especially Cog, a model of hand-eye coordination and learning, and Kismet, an example of emotional mirroring through voice and facial expression. Foerst effectively narrates the delight—and at times, confusion—she feels from her robotic encounters, although some readers will wish for more concrete descriptions of the science and technology involved. Foerst's thoughts on AI and theology can be grouped into two main themes: the importance of embodiedness and the flexibility of personhood. The first theme is developed quite effectively, integrating insights from the Bible with the idea of AI in the 1990s: making progress by modeling embodied systems—even simple ones—instead of abstract computational tasks. The second theme, relying heavily on Paul Tillich's concepts of sin and justification, and focusing on audience perceptions of Cog and Kismet, is generally less persuasive. Overall, Foerst relates an inherently interesting story, supplemented by parallels in Judeo-Christian traditions, but hampered at times by academic jargon.
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