Taking a Spiritual Path to AI

I teach edtech courses to K-12 educators each fall. We’ve talked about AI in a general sense but I know that this semester, we need to dig into what this new technology means for everyone, including educators. It just might be that transformational technology we’ve been promised.

I was just trying to figure out where to start when a new podcast from Dan Harris at Ten Percent Happier appeared: The Dharma of Artificial Intelligence. Harris started the podcast echoing my own sentiments: his team knew they had to tackle the subject but couldn’t figure out how. Until they found this book: What Makes Us Human: Artificial Intelligence Answers Life’s Biggest Questions. Its authors–Iain Thomas and Jasmine Wang–trained an AI on spiritual texts from the Bible to Maya Angelou and then asked all the big questions of life.

The answers form the bulk of the book, and they are surprisingly spiritual and inclusive. They focus on what connects us at the core as humans without concern for individual religious beliefs or practices. The writing is reminiscent of motivational and devotional texts. In the end, the Beatles may have had it right: all you need is love. Here is part of the answer to the question: What is the meaning of life? “The meaning of life is love. We have a tendency to think we are separate from the Universe. We are not separate. We are part of it, and it is part of us” (p. 37).

The authors are not oblivious to the issues of AI, with Wang especially expressing real fear at the power and potential for harm represented by this technology. The podcast was unsettling. We are grappling with something we don’t fully understand.

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