Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology, University of Balamand, Lebanon
Project “Science and Orthodoxy around the World” presented from 16th to 18th April, 2019 at Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology, University of Balamand, Lebanon. “Artificial Intelligence and Theology” – the two days lectures by Aleksandar Petrovic and Aleksandra Stevanovic, members of the project SOW, under the High patronage of His Beatitude John X Patriarch of Antioch and All the East The science–religion dialog in the Orthodox world greatly benefited from the international project “Science and Orthodoxy around the World”. It included a wide spectrum of activities, events, and publications aimed at systematic, thorough, and accessible data on the relation of scientific and religious worldviews. Within the project, the researchers and scholars put emphasis on diverse aspects of the science–Orthodoxy interrelatedness and provided multivalent approaches to their relationship. Professor Aleksandar Petrovic, advisor of the project SOW, and Aleksandra Stevanovic, SOW researcher edited the volume “Orthodoxy and Artificial Intelligence: Dictionary of Technology as a Double Logos”. The volume is the result of the SOW Worksop held in May 2018 at the Rectorate of the University of Belgrade. Its aim is to evoke the creative potential of Orthodoxy in the time of the global rise of the artificial intelligence. The fulcrum for consideration has been found in a manuscript published in 1981 in Belgrade under the title “Dictionary of Technology”. Its coded text explains the steps of the technological reduction of the crucial Orthodox concept of personality to a pure form.
The University of Balamand Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology was an excellent host for the mentioned topics since it has done essential academic work in the context of modern/post-modern science–Orthodoxy relationship. It published intriguing publications: The People of God in Bible and Tradition (2019), Bioethics: The Need for a Paradigm Shift? (2012), Saint John the Damascene: Theology, Image and Melody (2012), Thinking Modernity (2011). Therefore the Institute seemed to be a place for fostering further dialog in the sphere of secular and religious implications of the growing power of technology and broadscale impacts of machine intelligence. The two days lectures were coordinated by Father Porphyrios Georgi, Dean at the University of Balamand Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology, Father Bassam Nassif, and Father Antoine Melki who opened the event. Father Melki introduced the lecturers to the wide audience and outlined the general ideas and initiatives of the international Athens-based project “Science and Orthodoxy around the World”. Professor Petrovic accentuated that the project SOW was the first global project devoted to science–Orthodoxy relationship and dialog. Then, he explained the principal points of the interrelation of theology and technology with the accent on the artificial intelligence, displaying a wide range of instances of the contemporary machine intelligence utilization and its impacts on society and religion. Having presented the religious and cultural manifestations of the artificial intelligence in theology, education, law, political structure, infrastructure, medicine, to mention a few, the lecturers noticed that recently the artificial intelligence tends to find stronghold in legal terms. That explains the proposed resolution on the protection of the rights of the artificial or electronic persons in the European Parliament in 2017. Aleksandra Stevanovic therefore addressed social, linguistic, and theological reality of the rise of the artificial persons. Overviewing the legal context, she explained how the proposed legislative largely changes the cultural paradigm of Europe and the world as we know it. Petrovic and Stevanovic did not elaborate on the relation of the artificial intelligence and Orthodoxy descriptively, but raised the question of technology and machine intelligence within the essence of Orthodox faith. They presented “Dictionary of Technology” as the historically relevant observatory for the perception of the relationship between religion and technology and their role in the emergence of the artificial intelligence. Bringing into focus and critically examining the relationship between Orthodox Christianity and the artificial intelligence in the light of technological development and according legislative, these joint lectures raised the issue to the theological level. That further set the foundations for an international Orthodox interchange on the theme of the artificial intelligence and the rise of the artificial persons. The lectures were followed by the vivid discussion and questions about the further implications of the development of the artificial persons and machine intelligence in general, with Orthodox Christian reflections on the Personhood, Self, and present social reality. On the second day, the documentary “Threefold Logos” (director Aleksandar Petrovic, screenplay Aleksandra Stevanovic) was screened as the concluding part to the prior lectures, reflecting the search for the logos lost in the contemporary world. The 50’ documentary explained how the issue of the artificial intelligence was to be reconsidered at the theological level in front of the post-human promises of creating the infinite virtual world. After the screening a long discussion took part with common conclusion that Orthodoxy will aggregate its self-awareness if it understands that post-modern technology raises the same question as pre-modern theology did many centuries ago.