A Buddhist Perspective On Artificial Intelligence

buddhismIs Buddhism the only world religion that will be able to grapple with our emerging reality? Via Institute for Emerging Ethics & Technologies, Andrew Cvercko writes:

Emergent artificial intelligence poses a problem for many religions, especially those that ascribe a special place for humanity and for human consciousness in the cosmos. Buddhism may be the one system of religious thought that not only accepts but will actively embrace any AIs that we produce as a species.

Later [Buddhist] texts illustrate that animal life is just as capable of becoming enlightened as human life is, and recently many Buddhist thinkers have begun to include plant and microbial life as well. Buddhism may have in fact been the first philosophy to find personhood beyond the human. Would it accept artificial intelligence in the same way? The simple answer is that, from a Buddhist view of the mind and consciousness, all intelligence is artificial.

Buddhism famously denies the existence of a “self”. This is a departure from how many people view themselves. Buddhism instead describes living things as composed of five “heaps” or “piles”: our physical forms, our feelings, our perceptions, our mental formations, and our consciousness

None of the heaps are under our control, and none by themselves can be ascribed as who we “are”. Together they create a living thing, but taken apart they are simply temporary amassing of energy that will eventually dissipitate of their own accord.

8 Comments on "A Buddhist Perspective On Artificial Intelligence"

  1. Jason limbert | Jan 11, 2014 at 11:22 am |

    Interesting idea. I agree, I guess……..or, Buddism will make the transition with the least contortions at least, remaining in its recognizable form.

    I say this as a card carrying athiest who denies all things supernatural by the way, but I think Christianity could make the transition too. Its the most malleable of the religions I find. Its the religion of infinite denominations. I can see one forming around this AI thing as well. It wouldnt quite appear as the various brands of Christianity we see today, but would be yet another hallmark example of how that religion survives. By adaptation.

  2. BuzzCoastin | Jan 11, 2014 at 11:58 am |

    there is a difference between biological sentience & algorithmic perception
    ai lacks the cravings of biology
    and from a Buddhist pov, ai lacks karma

  3. trompe l'oiel | Jan 12, 2014 at 2:05 pm |

    Can someone page the Logos please? Maybe Logos and the hologram specter of Phil K. Dick can clear this up after we toy with A.I. and it begins to think for itself at a quantum evolutionary rate we do not dare to comprehend. That would be so hilarious & ironic, if Man manifested the supreme through thinking it can have better dominion over nature than nature does over itself….

    or I could just have an odd sense of humor.

  4. I would point to the perspective of Anthroposophy. While not a religion its philosophy deals heavily with spiritual maters, and gives a much different view on what the self is comprised of. Also it’s concepts of the fight between the two dueling lines of thought that run against human freedom personified as Lucifer and Ahriman. One the belief that all is matter and what is seen as spirit is an illusion, and the other that all is spirit and matter is the illusion, but these are both false.

  5. Karma Könren Gyurme | Jan 13, 2014 at 4:30 am |

    interesting perspecive, though he buddhist perception is a lil shortcut here..the ego is not exactly an illusion, it is a specific projection, which is not arbitrary. To turn that around and say,okay, if there is nothing, we simply can make it, thats a ittle too convenient^^ there is still sth.like ca universal consciousness which has nothing to do with ur ego; and from which consciousness ur AI will feed on..? A hollow egg will never produce something. So, from another buddhist view, i simply think there will never be sth.like AI; just very fast calculators. We still suffer a deep misconception, what intelligence or rather consciusness or even life is..

  6. BuzzCoastin | Jan 14, 2014 at 11:57 am |

    from a Buddhist pov
    would be a collection of tendencies or inclinations
    that shape the “personality” good or bad
    which have been developed over multiple incarnations
    ai hasn’t an incarnation nor a past life
    at best it has the karma of it’s human creators
    but not it’s own

    • I’m going to make some assumptions here, I hope you think they are reasonable ones. Firstly I’m assuming an Asimov-style robot, rather than AI that is restricted to a server.

      Based on current technology, any robot-based AI would have both its own programming and an internet link to a central hub. We would want each robot to be distinct so that it could develop its own personality, but we would also want it to be able to draw on the experiences of the other robots to help it perform better.

      As I understand the Buddhist perspective, a person(ality) is the result of the interaction of energy waves (or whatever other analogy you choose to use). At the point of death, the final state of those energy waves then goes into the creation of a new person(ality).

      That’s how I understand the concept of reincarnation, and based on that then the robot AIs I described above could be described as being on the karmic wheel – each new generation carries with it the mistakes and lessons of the previous generation, always moving closer to a state of perfection.

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