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Wisdom Conversations: Being Human and Artificial Intelligence Spring 2023 Recap

News April 5, 2023

What does it mean to be human? As our world continues to evolve, technological advancements like artificial intelligence (AI) push the boundaries of what we once thought possible. Concepts like the metaverse, neural links, Turing tests and fully automated chatbots have blurred the lines between reality and automation.

Artificial intelligence replicating and potentially surpassing human capabilities, raises profound human and AI life-altering questions, many of which were the focus of Cornerstone University’s third installment of the Wisdom Conversations community event hosted on Thursday, March 30 in Christ Chapel.

Presented by Cornerstone University, Wisdom Conversations is a series of shared conversations addressing urgent issues of our times and increasing global volatility. Wisdom Conversations aligns with Cornerstone’s mission to be an academic Christian thought leader committed to being a destination for bold, Christ-centered and influential graduates. Nationally renowned experts thoughtfully engage for 90 minutes in a public forum over today’s economic, societal and moral challenges, offering various viewpoints and positive potential solutions for the greater good. 

The topic, Being Human and Artificial Intelligence, was moderated by President Gerson Moreno-Riaño and discussed by renowned panelists, R. David Edelman, MIT scholar and former presidential advisor; James Meeks, co-founder and co-CEO of Grand Rapids-based Iris Technology Inc.; and Joanna Ng, former IBM Master Inventor and AI entrepreneur. 

The event, which was open to the community, attracted over 600 guests. Each attendee was treated to engaging dialogue and profound insights into one of the fastest-growing issues in the world.

It is no secret that the rapid growth of artificial intelligence uses has proven quite disruptive to a significant number of people, many of which are having their first major encounter with these technological advancements.

Dr. Moreno-Riaño opened the conversation by asking panelists the seemingly simple question, “What is artificial intelligence?”

“This is something that is broad and difficult to understand. AI isn’t magic. It’s math and code,” Edelman stressed. “AI is a prediction machine.”

Ng looked to the past for her answer. “AI was defined in 1956 as the construction of computer programs that engage in tasks that are currently more satisfactorily performed by human beings because they require high-level mental processes such as perceptual learning, memory organization and critical reasoning. This definition is largely still true.”

“To demystify AI, it’s not artificial or intelligent, it’s just incredibly fast,” Meeks pointed out.

Each panelist made a point to allay concerns about artificial intelligence turning sentient or becoming a tool that would become superior to humans. They also recognized the importance of humanity’s awareness during this time of rapid technological advancement.

Edelman noted that, “It’s human supervision that is the only thing that can prevent AI from becoming the master.”

“Who owns the technology? Do we own the technology or does it own us? We have become accustomed to being owned by technology,” Meeks added.

All three panelists encouraged the audience to be on guard against automation bias or simply accepting something as true because a machine said that it was.

“With artificial intelligence, it is not designed to represent nor handle absolute truth,” Ng pointed out. “The only version of ‘truth’ in AI is mathematically and statistically derived and implied from its data. When AI implies ‘truth’ from data, it’s dangerous because when data is biased, the recommendation is biased.”

When asked for closing thoughts, each panelist pointed out reasons for hope during this turbulent time.

“Know that you are a human which is extremely valuable,” Meeks concluded. “Not just an employee or consumer. Technology is supposed to work for you and not you for it. Take that knowledge and use it to understand how to lead a flourishing life.”

“We have this instinct as humans to see this technology as something outside of our understanding and influence. Technology does not deserve this quality,” Edelman warned. “Do not mysticize it. AI is a product of our own creation. It is not magic; it is math and code that we have designed and can control. Over the last six to 12 months, it has become usable for all of us if we take the time and effort to assert ourselves and understand it as participants.”

Ng ended the night with these thoughts: “The first thing not to do is fear. You cannot be afraid. God gave us a mandate to subdue the earth, including AI. The second thing is to step up to the plate and learn how to use AI for good. Develop critical and first principle thinking. AI locks itself in the phenomenon that data is truth. You need to know the absolute truth in response to the data. Asserting the truth is critical. Know the truth, be curious, be equipped to think critically, and learn not to trust the data. Never forget that anything created by man can be changed by man.”

The panelists and Dr. Moreno-Riaño received a boisterous thank you, and the evening concluded with feelings of optimism and excitement for the possibilities that lie ahead.

The next Wisdom Conversations community event, “Christianity in America: Declining Toward Insignificance or Resurging Toward Revival?,” will be held on Oct. 5, 2023. The event features Eric Metaxas, #1 New York Times bestselling author of “Is Atheism Dead?,” “Fish Out of Water,” “Martin Luther,” “If You Can Keep It,” “Bonhoeffer,” “Amazing Grace” and “Miracles”; his latest book is “Letter to the American Church.”

Listen to past installments and find more information on the upcoming Wisdom Conversations event slated for the fall semester at cornerstone.edu/wisdom.

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